Days after the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal its net neutrality rules for Internet providers, a Republican congresswoman has introduced legislation that would replace some — but not all — of the regulations.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) on Tuesday unveiled what she is calling the Open Internet Preservation Act. The bill restores two of the most important provisions of the FCC's net neutrality rules: a ban on the blocking of websites, as well as a ban on the slowing of websites. It also includes the same public disclosure requirements Internet providers must abide by under the FCC's decision from last week.
The bill also directs the FCC to enforce the legislation by setting up an inbox for net neutrality complaints and adjudicating them.
But the bill omits a third plank of the FCC's 2015 net neutrality rules: The ban on “paid prioritization,” or the ability of Internet providers to speed up certain websites in exchange for money.
Blackburn said in an interview Tuesday the bill does not include a provision on paid prioritization because it attempts to focus on areas of bipartisan agreement.
“On paid prioritization, there is not agreement,” she said. “We have heard from a lot of innovators who are working around [artificial intelligence] and with [autonomous vehicles] and in health-care technology that their preference would be for it to be silent on the paid prioritization issue.”
Critics of paid prioritization have said it could lead to expensive “fast lanes” that benefit primarily wealthy companies and websites. The lack of a provision addressing paid prioritization could prove tough for Democrats and other supporters of the net neutrality rules to swallow.
“The proposal circulated today does not meet the criteria for basic net neutrality protections — including bright-line rules and a ban on paid prioritization — and will not provide consumers the protections they need to have guaranteed access to the entire internet," the Internet Association, which represents companies such as Netflix, Yelp and Facebook, said in a statement.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), one of two Democrats who would be vital to any net neutrality legislation because of their senior positions on key committees, called the bill "even worse than I expected" in a statement on Tuesday and vowed not to "participate in half-baked Republican efforts."
A spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), another key Democrat, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Pallone is the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Nelson is his counterpart on the Senate Commerce Committee.
Democrats may also balk at a provision in Blackburn's bill that forces the FCC to recognize Internet providers as lightly regulated “information service” providers — a regulatory category that comes with fewer obligations under the agency's rubric. The 2015 rules explicitly rejected that approach, labeling Internet providers as telecom companies. That move was overturned in last week's FCC vote.
Blackburn's bill would mean limiting the FCC's oversight powers when it came to Internet providers and closing the door to the type of rules the FCC passed in 2015 — something Democrats have refused to accept in prior legislative negotiations.
The bill also would block states from drafting their own net neutrality legislation, another controversial topic as states such as California and Washington have mulled that alternative after the FCC rolled back its regulations last week. Preempting state laws would prevent some jurisdictions from enacting beefier rules for Internet providers than the federal standard.
Still, Blackburn's bill could create room for new legislative talks — particularly around how far, if at all, paid prioritization should be allowed to go.
“I don't expect [Democrats] are going to endorse Blackburn's bill, but that's never how this has worked,” said Berin Szoka, president of the think tank TechFreedom. “The point is to get both sides talking.”