House Debates FCC Rate Reg-Blocking Bill

House Democrats and Republicans took to the House floor early Friday to debate and vote H.R. 2666, the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act, sponsored by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).

House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) made it clear that one of the things the bill was aimed at preventing was the potential regulation of zero data plans, which the FCC is eyeing under its Net Neutrality general conduct standard.

He pointed to T-Mobile's Binge On as an example of a pro-competitive, pro-consumer, innovative offering the FCC's authority to regulate under the Open Internet order was threatening.

House Democrats and FCC chairman Tom Wheeler argue the bill is too broad and would sweep away FCC authority under its Open Internet rules to regulate blocking, degrading or paid prioritization since they all implicate rates, essentially gutting the Open Internet order.

Republicans say they are simply trying to prevent rate regs, both before and after the fact.

Wheeler had initially said he supported the underlying theme of preventing broadband rate regulations, but had since clarified in a letter that he was talking specifically about Congress codifying the FCC's Open Internet order forbearance of ex ante (before the fact) rate regulations, not other authorities like preventing anti-competitive paid prioritization or throttling.

During the debate, Kinzinger said he simply wanted to make sure that the FCC does not have the power to regulate rates, before or after the fact, saying "we are just taking back "a little power from the FCC," which is what Congress is empowered to do.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the subcommittee, said that as a representative of Silicon Valley, she knew something about innovation and that the bill was, instead, about gutting the FCC's authority to protect consumers. "This bill in its broadness is an attack on consumers and net neutrality rules," she said.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), says the bill is about network neutrality and said it was also about easing the fear of rate regs under those new rules by making clear it is not about rate regulation.

A vote is planned for later this morning.

Cable operators strongly support Kinzinger’s bill, a point they made in a letter in advance of Friday’s vote.

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.