House E&C Schedules Net Neutrality Hearing

The House Energy & Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday, March 12, on net neutrality legislation.

Related: Dems Prep Net Neutrality Hearing

Democrats plan to introduce legislation this week, the Save the Internet Act, whose title suggests it might not be the bipartisan middle ground that will be necessary to pass both, currently divided, Houses of Congress.

The description of the bill as "reversing the disastrous repeal by Trump’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in late 2017 of the critical net neutrality protections" further suggests it will not be welcomed by the other side with open arms.

Republicans have proposed their own legislation, but don't see the net as in danger under the current Title I-based regime of no bright-line rules, ISP transparency requirements, and the FTC to backstop anticompetitive conduct.

One of the big issues with imposing new rules is whether Democrats will sign off on them without a general conduct standard in the package. NCTA-The Internet & Television Association President Michael Powell, who testified at Wednesday's hearing, signaled NCTA would support legislation that reinstated the FCC's 2015 rules—against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization—but that does not include the general conduct standard, a spokesperson for the NCTA confirmed after the hearing.Democrats have said the legislation that restores only those rules and not the ability to reach other conduct is too limiting.ISPs see that undefined power to regulate conduct yet to materialize or anticipate as providing the same kind of uncertainty as the constant legal ping-pong game surrounding the FCC attempts to regulate or deregulate internet access without clear direction from Congress on what its authority is.Currently, the FCC has deeded most net neutrality oversight to the Federal Trade Commission, which already has oversight over edge-providers, which the FCC does not.Elsewhere a federal appeals court is considering a challenge to the FCC's reclassification of internet access as a Title I information service. If the case went against the FCC--it will likely be decided in the second quarter--the rules could return sooner, but lacking the Congressional clarification of legislation and likely headed to the Supreme Court.

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.