Sens. Kennedy, Coons Agree on Need for Net Neutrality Legislation

The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Appropriations General Government Subcommittee put in a plug ending the regulatory and legislative pendulum swings on network neutrality and setting a firm legislative course.

That came in a combination FCC/Federal Trade Commission budget hearing Tuesday (May 7).

In his opening statement, Committee chair John Kennedy (R-La.) said he had talked about the issue with FCC chair Ajit Pai--who was testifying--before the hearing. Kennedy said that many reasonable people have different views of the problem, but that regardless of those views on the correct course, "we need to pick a course and stick to it."

He said it was "very, very hard" for consumers "when we have the policy bouncing around like a ping-pong ball.

Currently, the House has voted to re-apply net neutrality rules that the FCC eliminated last year after the previous FCC adopted them in 2015 after a court threw out a previous FCC's compromise rules (under a different authority) adopted after a previous FCC's net neutrality principle policy statement was ruled unenforceable.

Kennedy said it was "really time for Congress to act. We need to roll up our sleeves." He thought they had "more in common than we don't."

Most Republicans and Democrats can agree on FCC-enforced rules against blocking, throttling and anti-competitive paid prioritization, though the definition of the last could take some finessing. Where many differ is whether internet access needs to be treated as a Title II common carrier (Democrats) or a Title I information service (Republicans) and whether there should be a "general conduct standard," as there was in the 2015 Open Internet Order, to get at conduct that does not fall under those specific rules but could hurt an open internet (Democrats).

"We need to stop passing the buck and pass a net neutrality bill," said Kennedy, turning a phrase that rivals those of another net neutrality fan and iconic phrase-turner, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Committee ranking member Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he was on the same page.

"I could not agree more with the chairman's comments about network neutrality," said Coons. "I think we've had a several-year-long fight back and forth. It's time for us to sort it out and legislate responsibly."

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.