Rep. Pallone: FCC Rate Reg-Blocking Bill 'Dangerous'

It sure looks like the bipartisanship that House Republicans were trying to craft for their bill preventing the FCC from regulating broadband rates is not going to materialize.

The bill is H.R. 2666, the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act, sponsored by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). It passed out of a politically divided subcommittee Feb. 11.

Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said he thought both sides were close to agreement on a bipartisan bill, but those negotiations broke down at the 11th hour after what he said was the minority's last-minute "papering" of the process with amendments.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, signaled the impasse had not been resolved in the interim, March 14, calling the bill "unnecessary and dangerous" and saying efforts to reach a compromise have failed, at least "so far."

Originally, Pallone had said he agreed with the sentiment of the bill’s title, No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Act, and still does, but signaled that how it remains drafted by the Republicans is unacceptable.

He also called it deceptively simple. The bill is essentially one paragraph saying the FCC can't regulate rates.

But Pallone, other Democrats, and some legal experts cited by Pallone, argue that the bill is too broad, and that rate regulation could mean virtually anything.

"While the Republicans claim that they intend the bill to be narrow, we have heard over and over that their draft could swallow vast sections of the Communications Act. Most notably, as written, this bill could undermine the FCC’s ability to protect consumers," Pallone said, according to his opening statement for a mark-up of the bill, which begins March 14 with opening statement, but does not get down to business until tomorrow.

Pallone says he remains willing to work on a bill that prevents the FCC from regulating broadband rates, something FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the FCC will not use its new authority under the Title II definition of ISP to do. "But I have also said that I cannot allow the bill to undermine the FCC’s core mission. For instance, I cannot support a bill that prevents the agency from acting in the public interest. I cannot support a bill that prevents the agency from protecting consumers from discriminatory practices. And I cannot support a bill that undercuts the FCC’s net neutrality rules," he said.

Look for Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee, and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), a member of the subcommittee, to offer amendments to try and narrow the bill so it explicitly does not sweep in various elements of the Open Internet order, like bans on paid prioritization.

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.