Save the Internet Act: D.C. Weighs In

Washington was swift to react to the official debut of Democrats' version of network neutrality rule legislation, which would nullify the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom net neutrality rule deregulation under current FCC chair Ajit Pai and restore the 2015 Open Internet order championed by then FCC chair Tom Wheeler.

Both sides agree that Congress needs to clarify the government's authority over net neutrality--Republicans have three bills of their own--but not on how to do that.

“We are disappointed that Democratic leaders would ignore growing calls for bipartisan action, and instead advance a highly controversial, partisan proposal that puts the internet under heavy-handed government control," said NCTA-The Internet & Television Association. "Despite significant interest in Congress, our industry, and across America in pursuing legislation that would codify core net neutrality rules and promote internet growth, this latest approach forcing Title II regulation back on the internet offers no such hope. The internet does not need saving. To the contrary, it is thriving, with wireless companies investing in advanced 5G networks and our industry advancing our 10G platform to deliver speeds 10 times faster than what is available today. We remain committed to finding a real bipartisan solution that offers consumers stable and enforceable protections, without the unnecessary overreach of common carrier regulation, so that this exceptional network progress can continue.”

“ACA has always supported Congress enacting open Internet legislation that would apply in all jurisdictions across the country to all firms operating in the Internet eco-system," said American Cable Association president Matt Polka. "No one should be able to block or otherwise impair broadband Internet access service subscribers from accessing lawful content, subject to reasonable network management practices.

“No one should be able to engage in unreasonable discrimination or paid prioritization. And, all providers should be required to disclose to customers key information about their service.

Related: House E&C Schedules Net Neutrality Hearing

“All of these fundamental open Internet protections can be established without Congress turning broadband providers into common carriers or otherwise subjecting them to outdated regulation, which would deter providers, especially smaller providers, from investing in their broadband networks.

“ACA urges Congress to adopt these consensus open Internet requirements. The time has come to settle this debate in a way that recognizes and balances the interests of all stakeholders.”

"[O]ur nation’s Internet laws must be modern and practical to balance consumer protections while safeguarding the freedom to innovate and ensuring continued broadband deployment," said limited government group American Action Network. “Unfortunately, this legislation would shackle the Internet with outdated and burdensome regulations from nearly hundred years ago that were originally intended for the old landline telephone," said limited government group American Action Network.

“Despite some outlandish predictions of doom in the wake of the FCC’s decision to repeal the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed Title II Internet regulation, we’ve seen big improvements in both speed and access for users," said Jessica Melugin, associate director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Center for Technology and Innovation. "While broadband speeds increased by almost 40 percent, more homes gained access to fiber in 2018 than in any other year.

Related: Dems Seek to Restore 2015 Open Internet Order

“Nancy Pelosi’s new so-called ‘net neutrality’ legislation will almost surely suffer from the same policy problems as the Obama-era regulations. Rather than help people, misguided legislation will threaten both innovation and investment in search of a solution to a problem that simply doesn’t exist. The lesson of the net neutrality-free broadband market is that government should stay out of the way and let the free market keep working.”

“Democrats in the House and Senate are introducing a bill today, again titled 'Save the Internet,' this time in 2019. You would expect a bill with such an ambitious declared purpose as saving the Internet, would, at least, in typical legislative fashion, set forth right up front the ‘findings’ that purport to show why and from what the Internet needs saving," said Free State Foundation president Randolph May. "No such luck — even though the bill, if adopted, would subject Internet service providers to the same outdated analog-era regulatory regime applied to Ma Bell when we all had black telephones."

'{T]he Save the Internet Act takes our open and thriving internet backward – not forward – and would have negative implications for America’s competitiveness in the global digital economy," said USTelecom President Jonathan Spalter. "Our view: it is important that lawmakers – now on both sides of the aisle – continue working on legislation to make net neutrality the law of the land. It is time for Congress to finally provide the certainty that will eliminate the confounding regulatory ‘rinse-and-repeat cycle’ that is bad for consumers, investment, and innovation."

“CTIA and our members support an Open Internet," said CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker. "We need permanent bipartisan rules to protect Americans online, while maintaining the opportunity for innovation that allowed the Internet to flourish. Today’s announcement unfortunately does not get us closer to a permanent solution to end the debate and protect consumers.”

One critic at least saw some hope for an eventual meeting of the minds.

"The Save the Internet Act at least aims in the right direction in that it would end the back and forth on broadband regulation through legislation," said Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) director of Broadband and Spectrum Policy Doug Brake. "That both parties are each looking at legislation and potentially working toward agreement is a sign of progress. But that is where it appears the bill’s virtues end."This legislation unfortunately contains a fatal flaw: returning to the problematic 2015 rules and the overly broad authority of Title II. No bill that classifies broadband as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act will gain widespread support. Title II is a non-starter. This legacy law simply doesn’t offer the balance a complex new platform like the Internet deserves. It would be far better for Congress to thoughtfully design a new section of the law tailor-made for the competitive dynamics of today’s broadband market."

Claude Aiken, president of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), also at least praised the fact that there was at least activity on the legislative front."Today the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill to reinstate the FCC’s repealed Title II Net Neutrality regulations. WISPA is heartened by the fact that Congress has taken a renewed interest in this important matter, but we feel, as we did with the repealed regulations, that they fail to encourage the widespread deployment and adoption of Internet infrastructure, especially in under-served, rural areas of America." 

But there were plenty of die hard fans as well.

“The FCC was on the wrong side of the law, the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of the American public when it rolled back net neutrality," said FCC Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against the reg rollback and was in attendance at a Capitol Hill press conference announcing the effort to restore the rules. "The FCC’s deeply unpopular decision is being challenged in the courts, in statehouses, and in Congress. I applaud the effort announced today to reinstate open internet rules at the FCC. I’ll keep raising a ruckus to support net neutrality and I’m glad so many others are too.”

“This legislation is exactly what Americans have been asking for ever since the FCC repealed net neutrality in 2017," said Joshua Stager, senior counsel at New America's Open Technology Institute. "In its repeal, the FCC abdicated its authority to oversee Comcast, AT&T, and other internet service providers, which put consumers and the economy at risk. Today's bill reverses that misguided action, restores net neutrality, and puts the FCC back in the business of protecting the American people. We urge the House and Senate to pass the bill as quickly as possible.”

“Since the FCC foolishly repealed net neutrality, we’ve seen a wild west where monopoly telephone and cable companies have been free to do what they want at the expense of consumers," said Michael Copps, former FCC chair and current special advisor to Common Cause. "There’s already evidence of broadband providers throttling speeds, degrading video quality, and creating service plans that favor their own content over competitors. The harms will only get worse the longer net neutrality remains repealed.

"This legislation gives consumers exactly what they want, an internet that is an open marketplace for all, and that puts the American people ahead of huge cable companies and internet service providers," said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports. "Millions of consumers urged the FCC to scrap its plans to repeal the strong net neutrality rules passed in 2015, but the Commission ignored the overwhelming public support. Today’s legislation will restore what consumers lost last year. A similar version of this legislation passed the Senate with bipartisan support just 10 months ago, and now should be no different. The future of the internet is too important to leave in the hands of powerful corporate interests. Consumer Reports strongly endorses this pro-consumer legislation, and will work hard to see it enacted into law this year."

“It is clear that while these rules have been repealed, broadband providers have slowly and carefully moved to erode the concepts of net neutrality in their business practices and their advocacy in Washington, D.C.," said Chris Lewis, VP of Public Knowledge. "Now is the time for Congress to respond to the overwhelming call for restoring net neutrality rules, and the...proposal is an excellent, consensus path forward. Every American should demand that their Senators and Representatives vote to approve it immediately before further harm can be done to the consumer choices and a free market online.”

The Internet Association, whose members include edge providers from Amazon (and Facebook and Google) to Zillow, said it supported the bill, but also signaled it would support something Republicans could sign on to.

“Internet companies believe that consumers should have access to the entire internet, free of blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization by ISPs. There’s overwhelming support – including from the internet industry – for enforceable net neutrality rules, and Congress should pass bipartisan legislation that provides consumers the protections they deserve," said Melika Carroll, SVP of global government affairs. "IA remains outcome oriented to protect consumers on this critical issue and supports the Save The Internet Act because it would reinstate these protections for all Americans through the 2015 Open Internet Order. The internet industry would also support bipartisan Congressional efforts that restore strong, enforceable net neutrality protections and will continue to fight for a free and open internet in the courts as an intervenor in Mozilla v. FCC.”

The association representing computer companies was also behind the bill.

“The internet has been historically neutral. After decades of legal battles by those who want to either make money from discrimination or look the other way, we are glad to see legislation to protect consumers’ and businesses’ access to the open internet," said Computer & Communications Industry Association president Ed Black. "As House Energy & Commerce Committee chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) discussed today, an open Internet is crucial for small businesses and consumers. We hope Congress will Act swiftly to restore, strong, net neutrality rules.”

“Strong net neutrality made the streaming revolution possible and creates jobs and competition for main street American businesses," said Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS. "We welcome and support the open internet legislation introduced by Democratic congressional leaders today and hope that it will attract bipartisan support."

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.