Commentary

Obama Threatens To Veto Bill Limiting FCC's Broadband Authority

The White House is signaling that President Obama will veto a Republican-backed bill that would chip away at the recent net neutrality rules.

The “No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act," H.R. 2666, states that the FCC can't "regulate the rates charged for broadband Internet access service.

Backers of the bill say it will codify FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's promises to refrain from telling broadband providers how much to charge for Web service. But net neutrality advocates say the bill is worded so broadly that it could prohibit the FCC from intervening in a host of matters that affect how people use the Web.

The White House said in a policy statement that the bill is "overly broad."

"If the President were presented with H.R. 2666, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill," the statement concluded.

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When the FCC reclassified broadband access as a common carrier service last year, the agency also gained the authority to set rates. Wheeler has consistently said the agency had no intention of doing so, but the bill's supporters say it will prohibit future FCC members from setting rates.

Net neutrality advocates, on the other hand, say the bill would prevent the FCC from policing Internet service providers that engage in price gouging, or that impose data caps that discourage subscribers from accessing online video.

"Although the FCC is not setting rates, stripping away its authority to review monopoly charges and other unjust and unreasonable business practices would harm everyone," Public Knowledge and other advocates said Tuesday in a letter sent to House leaders.

"This legislation threatens the FCC’s ability to enforce merger conditions that provide low-cost broadband to disadvantaged communities," the letter adds. "It would give a free ride to companies currently imposing punitive data caps and introducing zero-rating schemes, which the FCC has rightly questioned and continues to investigate."

The White House reiterated some of those concerns in its statement. "The bill also would hamstring the FCC's public interest authority to review transactions," the administration stated. "H.R. 2666 also could limit the Commission's ability to address new practices and adapt its rules for a dynamic, fast-changing online marketplace."

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