Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are introducing a bill that would reclassify internet service providers under Title II of the Communications Act’s mandatory access regulations and pave the way for a possible return of network neutrality rules.
That is according to someone who has seen the bill, which was reported on by The Washington Post.
The bill is unlikely to get much traction, given how complicated and divisive the issue of net neutrality is and due to the relative handful of legislative days before the midterm elections, in which Republicans, who strongly oppose Title II for the internet, are likely to regain control of the House.
Both sides of the net neutrality debate would like to get some closure on the issue rather than see the FCC classifying and reclassifying ISPs as the political majority changes. The FCC, though, is currently at a 2-2 political tie, so there will be no move to reclassify ISPs there anytime soon.
While Republicans have signaled they can accept some version of net neutrality rules — such as prohibitions against blocking, throttling or anti-competitive paid prioritization — they don't want a return of the Title II common carrier-lite regime and even the hint of possible rate regulation.
Democrats like Markey argue Title II is needed for a truly “open” internet.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more clear than ever that broadband Internet is a necessity, not a luxury,” Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit advocacy group and Title II proponent Fight for the Future, said. “The FCC is supposed to ensure everyone has affordable access to broadband and prevent telecom companies from abusing their monopoly power or charging an unfair fee. But because of the Trump administration’s disastrous repeal of Title II protections, the agency is currently unable to do any of that.
“This bill would fix that by restoring the FCC's ability to protect the public,” she said. “It will give the agency the authority it needs to restore net neutrality and address the digital divide.”
The US Telecom trade association said telecom providers already adhere to net neutrality practices, which it said consumers should expect Congress to "codify." "But let’s be clear: any such legislation cannot and must not be a backdoor for government to regulate prices and degrade the consumer internet experience," the group said, attributing the sentiment to CEO Jonathan Spalter. ■
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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.