But now that the Federal Communications Commission appears poised to impose common-carrier rules on broadband companies, the GOP is changing its tune. Late last week, Republicans in the House and Senate unveiled a compromise bill that would require broadband providers to follow some net neutrality principles. Specifically, the bill would ban ISPs from blocking sites, throttling content and from engaging in “paid prioritization” -- the industry term for charging companies higher fees for faster delivery of their content.
But the proposed bill also imposes new restrictions on the FCC. Among others, the measure prohibits the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a utility service, and prevents the agency from enacting new net neutrality rules. Other provisions of the bill could block the FCC from invalidating state restrictions on muni-broadband.
Those restrictions spurred some Democratic lawmakers to pan the bill at hearings on Wednesday in Capitol Hill. “The Internet is evolving at a blistering pace. The Internet that we know today likely will be vastly different a decade from now,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) stated this afternoon at the start of a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the draft bill.. “The FCC must have authority that is flexible enough that it can respond to a changing world. If we put a straightjacket on the commission, we may very well miss the future and leave the agency powerless -- and American consumers defenseless -- to deal with emerging problems.”
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a longtime net neutrality supporter, added that the GOP-backed bill could hamstring the FCC in various ways, including that it could prevent the agency from requiring broadband providers to protect consumers' privacy.
Some Republican lawmakers at Wednesday's hearings argued that Congress -- as opposed to five unelected FCC officials -- should decide how to regulate broadband providers.
But Nelson countered that Congress can always pass laws after the FCC has voted. “The congressional prerogative to act does not cease merely because an agency has moved forward and done its job,” he stated.
He added that the FCC need not put its vote on hold while waiting for Congress to pass laws. “An agency is not always required to cease its reasoned consideration of an issue merely because Congress may be examining that same concern at the same time,” the lawmaker stated.