Sens. Wicker, Sinema on Net Neutrality: Can We Talk?

There was some bipartisan talk out of the Hill after all this week amidst the partisan--and policy-driven--rancor.

At about the same time House Communications Subcommittee members seemed far apart on a bill that would restore FCC net neutrality rules, including some non-starter elements for Republicans there, on the Senate side the twain was doing some meeting, at least in terms of talking things out.

Related: 'Net Neutrality' Remain Fighting Words on Hill

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) say they have formed a net neutrality working group which will focus on "crafting a net neutrality proposal to encourage innovation, boost investment, and close the digital divide."

Those are all bipartisan goals, though the proof of the pudding will one side or both having to chew on some things they don't love, some version of a general conduct standard, perhaps, which Republicans oppose, or no Title II, which some Dems say is their non-starter for any legislative effort.

“The mission of this working group will be to put partisan politics aside in order to provide permanent internet protections,” said Wicker in a statement. “We need clear rules of the road that prohibit providers from blocking or throttling access to lawful content and provide transparency and consumer choice. We invite our colleagues no both sides of the aisle to join us in this effort.”

Traditionally the Senate at least tries to be more of the cooling saucer than the steaming tea kettle on contentious issues," though not with things like nomination and confirmation hearings for obvious reasons--the Senate is Congress' one shot at those appointments.

“Net neutrality is critical to maintaining a vibrant internet. We need a modern, internet-specific framework that encourages the freedom and innovation that make the internet the vital tool it is today—and consumers and providers need stability. We will only achieve those goals by working across party lines to find a bipartisan solution,” said Sinema in her statement, which was released jointly with Wicker's.

It is likely that even a Title II-based restoration of all the FCC's former Open Internet Order rules could pass the Democratically controlled House over Republican objections, which could well happen. Democrats there don't seem in a compromising mood, though they argue their bill already does some of that. But that House bill would almost certainly be dead in the Senate, where Republicans have their own clear majority. There could be enough Republicans to sign on to an actual, compromise bill, however, which appears to be Sens. Wicker's and Sinema's hope.

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.