Eshoo Pans Broadband Bills

Democrats have apparently not been wooed to two Republican-backed bills stemming from the FCC's new Title II-based Open Internet rules.

The bills, H.R. 2666 and the Small Business Deployment Act would, respectively, prevent the FCC from using Title II regs to impose rate regulation on Internet access and permanently extend a small business waiver from the FCC's enhanced disclosure requirements under the  new net neutrality rules.

That political divide was in evidence when the two bills got a legislative hearing last month. Members on both sides of aisle in the House Communications Subcommittee appear to be in agreement that the FCC should not regulate broadband rates and that it should make some accommodation in its Open Internet rules for small ISPs, but just how they are defined and how that should be achieved divided the committee along political lines. Apparently, they still do.

The House Communications Subcommittee began its markup of those two bills Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 10), but no Democrats were there to offer up opening statements.

At least for her part, that was confirmed by Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) in her opening statement, which she submitted for the record and shared with the press.

"[I]t was my sincere hope that we would reach agreement on the two net neutrality-related bills under consideration at today’s markup," she said. "Unfortunately we have not, despite many hours of staff time, working in consultation with the FCC, academic experts, public interest groups, industry and other key stakeholders for technical guidance."

She spent most of her statement on the rate reg bill. As she said when the bills were considered at that legislative hearing, she does not support the FCC "setting the monthly recurring rate that consumers pay for broadband Internet access service."

But she says the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act (2666) goes far beyond that and  could "eviscerate the FCC’s authority to protect consumers against truth in billing practices and discriminatory data caps; to ensure broadband availability through USF and E-Rate; to address rate-related issues in merger reviews; to ensure enforcement against paid prioritization; and other essential consumer protections."

At the hearing, Walden said of the bill: "I am confident that we can find a middle ground that protects consumers while ensuring that no future FCC abuses the new authority granted in the net neutrality proceeding."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.