An effort to craft compromise net neutrality legislation failed after a key lawmaker refused to support the bill, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said today.
Waxman had drafted a measure that would have required wireline broadband providers to follow neutrality principles for the next two years and would have given the FCC the ability to enforce those principles by fining companies up to $2 million for violations. Additionally, in what was seen as a provision favorable to Internet service providers, the bill also would have prohibited the FCC from reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service subject to common carrier rules for the next two years.
But Waxman announced this afternoon that he wasn't going to introduce the bill, because it lacked the support of an influential Republican -- Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
"This development is a loss for consumers and a gain only for the extremes," Waxman said in a statement. He added, however, that the decision announced today might not be permanent. "Cooler heads may prevail after the elections," he said.
For his part, Barton said he had spoken to other GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and had discovered "widespread consensus" against Waxman's proposal. "It is not appropriate to give the FCC authority to regulate the Internet," Barton said in a statement.
And, in a somewhat ominous development for neutrality supporters, Barton also said that if Congress wants to strip the FCC of the ability to reclassify broadband, lawmakers "should go ahead and do so without qualification."
Some advocates, meanwhile, are renewing calls for the Federal Communications Commission to take steps to enact neutrality regulations. "Consumers need FCC action now more than ever," Free Press political advisor Joel Kelsey said in a statement. "Consumers are currently unprotected, and it would be irresponsible for the FCC to fail to act."
Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, chimed in that the FCC "must act now to protect consumers by reinstating its authority over broadband." At present, however, it seems unlikely that anyone is going to act -- Congress, the FCC or Internet service providers. The FCC won't consider reclassification until some time after the midterm elections at the earliest. Without such reclassification, the FCC has no authority to tell ISPs not to degrade or prioritize traffic.
Realistically, however, it doesn't seem all that likely that ISPs will rock the boat by engaging in the type of traffic-shaping that would give neutrality advocates more ammunition to argue for new laws. Or, at least it's not likely that ISPs will do so in the near future, when there's still a reasonable chance that the FCC or Congress will impose new rules.