Fourteen months ago, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to revoke a set of net neutrality rules that had been passed during the Obama administration.
Since then there's been a lot of talk about action by Congress, but lawmakers have failed to pass any new legislation. Now, some House members are gearing up to once again tackle broadband policy.
On Thursday, at a House Subcommittee on Communications & Technology hearing about net neutrality, Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) said he has already introduced a new bill, and Reps. Cathy Anne McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) and Greg Walden (R-Oregon) said they plan to do so.
Rodgers said her bill would mimic a recent Washington state law that prohibits internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.
The Obama-era rules contained those same prohibitions. But the old rules also included a “general conduct” standard that broadly restricted providers from interfering with consumers' ability to reach website operators.
That standard had been interpreted as prohibiting some forms of zero-rating -- including AT&T's "Data Free TV," which allows wireless customers who purchase DirecTV to stream video without burning through their monthly data caps.
Consumer advocates already are skeptical that the bills announced Thursday will go far enough to protect the open web.
“If you want a few unregulated companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to control the future of communications, these bills are for you,” Free Press general counsel Matt Wood stated Thursday. “These industry-written pieces of legislation shouldn’t be taken seriously by any legislator who claims to support net neutrality.”
Whether the new proposals gain traction remains to be seen. But in the past, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill have been far apart on net neutrality. In 2017, Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn (then a House member and now a Senator) unveiled a relatively narrow proposal. Her concept of net neutrality involved prohibiting providers from blocking or throttling content, but allowing them to charge higher fees for prioritized delivery of content.
For their part, Democrats pushed forward with an initiative to restore the former rules in their entirety. The Senate voted 52-47 in favor of the resolution, but it failed to advance in the House.