Public Interest Groups Urge House to Reject Rate-Reg Bill

More than 50 public interest groups have joined in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging the House to vote against H.R. 2666, the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act.

They are likely preaching to the choir in Pelosi's case, and will have a tough row to hoe convincing Ryan, whose side has the majority of votes.

The bill would prevent the FCC from imposing rate regs on broadband service, but Democrats and the groups on the letter, which include Public Knowledge, Free Press and Future of Music Coalition, argue the bill would go far beyond blocking telephone style rate regs to gutting the FCC's authority to impose its Open Internet prohibitions on blocking, throttling content or anticompetitive paid prioritization, all of which have rate implications.

"Although the FCC is not setting rates, stripping away its authority to review monopoly charges and other unjust and unreasonable business practices would harm everyone," they wrote.

They also said that the legislation would "undermine the FCC's efforts to protect consumer privacy, including oversight of so-called 'pay-for-privacy' plans that require customers to pay significant additional fees to their broadband provider to avoid having their online data collected and sold to third parties."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled that the FCC's proposed broadband privacy regs would not exclude compensating users for re-use of their info. In an NPR interview, Wheeler conceded that opting out of data collection might raise the cost of service, but said the FCC was empowering consumers to say how their information was used, then "empowering them to say 'is there some value on my information and work some kind of a deal with an Internet Service Provider to put a value on that information."

Republicans have made it clear they don't think the FCC should impose rate regs via ex ante phone-style price caps or ex post facto through the FCC's enforcement authority, including through its general conduct standard, under which it is reviewing zero rating plans and data caps.

"We respectfully urge you to vote against this bill to show your support for America’s consumers and businesses that need the free and open Internet," the groups said.

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.