House Republicans have fired a shot across the net neutrality regulation bow before that ship has sailed.
According to a copy of a letter to FCC acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel provided to Multichannel News, Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Communications Subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio), joined by the Republican E&C members, warned against imposing "stringent net neutrality regulations" that could result in subs "losing their internet offerings."
The FCC under Rosenworcel has already signaled a possible different outcome as it considers petitions to reconsider the deregulation of internet access under the previous administration.
Citing the pandemic, they said broadband providers had responded by improving networks and offering free or reduced price services, adding "[W]e urge you not to impose stringent net neutrality regulations that may result in Americans losing their internet services."
The suggestion that internet regulation could cost customers service is a reference to what they say was California's "bungled" attempt to reregulate internet access after the Republican-led FCC--under chairman Ajit Pai--reclassified that access as a Title I information service not subject to common carrier regs and eliminated the rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization imposed by his Democratic predecessor.
"Almost immediately after California enforced this law, two Internet providers reportedly told the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that the law could force them to end [zero rating] arrangements with U.S. wireless carriers that enable veterans to access a free, mobile telehealth app called VA Video Connect," they wrote. Zero rating opponents Free Press countered that the claim was "premature, cynically opportunistic" and an attempt to "scare the Biden FCC from reinstating the federal rules and reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service — which common sense dictates it is."
They called out Rosenworcel for applauding the Biden Justice Department's decision to pull the plug on the Trump Administration's lawsuit against the California law, a law Rosenworcel said had filled the void created by the Pai FCC's net neutrality deregulation, which Rosenworcel had strongly opposed. "There was no void to fill, as oversight by the Federal Trade Commission, DOJ, and state attorneys general ensured that ISPs would fulfill their promises not to block or throttle traffic or otherwise engage in anticompetitive conduct."
While Rodgers and Latta said they agree that blocking, throttling and anticompetitive behavior should be prevented, they said that can happen with burdensome overregulation, both from the FCC and from states.
Whoever becomes the FCC chair, Rosenworcel or another Biden pick, they are expected to restore net neutrality rules. Republicans are OK with that, but not with doing so by reclassifying internet access as a Title II service subject to mandatory access and potentially rate regulation.
But in any case, no action by the FCC can happen until a third Democrat is nominated and confirmed. At the moment it is a political tie, 2-2, and neither Republican is going to be voting to reclassify ISPs as common carriers.
The Biden Administration's COVID-19-related broadband subsidy programs have signaled that the definition of broadband availability should include competition and price, which has Republicans fearing that Title II could be used to justify regulating price or opening networks to competitors.
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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.