Net Neutrality Returns To Democratic Agenda With Save The Internet Act; FCC Responds

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UPDATED with FCC commissioner statement: Democrats on Capitol Hill, now that they control the House of Representatives, are resuming their efforts to restore net neutrality with the introduction of a new bill in both the House and Senate.

Dubbed the Save the Internet Act, the legislation aims to return conditions to where they were before 2017, when the Republican-controlled FCC undid a 2015 Obama-era limit on the extent to which corporations can act as internet gate-keepers. Many large internet content companies, including Netflix, have taken strong public stances supporting net neutrality, and often have been on the other side of the issue from large media and telecom companies like Comcast and AT&T.

Attorneys general in several states initiated legal action in 2018 in response to the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. Their concern, which is shared by many digital companies and activist groups, is that it could enable certain companies to create walled gardens around internet content and become de-facto overseers of a public resource that was designed to be free and open.

In pushing for reforms in 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and other Republican commissioners leaned into the “freedom” concept, calling their action the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. They said it was aiming to improve consumer choice and eliminate encumbrances on activity in the marketplace.

In a news conference announcing the bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats are “honoring the will of the people” given that 86% of Americans “opposed the Trump assault on net neutrality, including 82% of Republicans.”

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) said internet service providers — which today means large broadband providers also making large investments in video — wield too much power. “The track record for ISPs on this issue is clear,” he said, noting cases of “throttling” and otherwise interfering with the free flow of internet information. “Consumers and small businesses want the protections and certainty that strong net neutrality rules provide.”

The bill aims to restore “Title II” classification, which would make internet providers like utility companies in the eyes of regulators.

Tina Pelkey, a spokeswoman for Pai, said the Democrats’ bill would reverse the FCC’s successful policy of encouraging Internet growth and freedom.

“The FCC’s return in 2017 to the bipartisan, light-touch approach to Internet regulation has been a success,” Pelkey said in a statement. “This time-tested framework has preserved the free and open Internet. It has promoted transparency in order to better inform consumer choice. It has unleashed private investment, resulting in more fiber being deployed in 2018 than any year before and download speeds increasing by an astounding 36%. And it has proven wrong the many hysterical predictions of doom from 2017, most notably the fantasy that market-based regulation would bring about ‘the end of the Internet as we know it.’ The Internet in America today is free and vibrant, and the main thing it needs to be saved from is heavy-handed regulation from the 1930s.”

Separately today, Democratic FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said in a statement: “The American people have demanded a free and open internet and I am pleased that Congress has responded with today’s legislation. I continue to believe that the FCC’s 2015 Net Neutrality rules were the right approach and the bill introduced today takes us back in that direction—a direction that will empower the FCC to keep the internet open as a gateway to opportunity for students, job seekers, consumers, creators, and businesses. They and everyone need, deserve, and expect unfettered access to the internet. Last year, the Senate passed a similar measure, to restore the FCC’s 2015 Net Neutrality rules, on a bipartisan basis. I am hopeful that the bill introduced today will energize folks across the country that care about Net Neutrality and lead to restoration of the common-sense protections needed to keep the internet open.”

Among others opposing the legislation is the Internet Innovation Alliance, which called it a “back-to-the-future” bill. “For over 20 years, including in the past year, the broadband internet has been regulated in a bipartisan consensus according to the light-touch rules first adopted during the Clinton Administration. Those rules helped the internet grow exponentially.”

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