A bill intended to restore 2015’s net neutrality rules has passed in the House of Representatives 232-190, and will soon be in consideration in the Senate. The ‘Save the Internet Act’ may be doomed to an eventual veto, but its broad support among voters and the relatively bipartisan push in Congress make it an important one to follow regardless.
The act was introduced in March, and is little more than a re-establishment of the FCC’s 2015 rules with Congressional approval and removing the ones they were replaced with in late 2017.
The bill was introduced and debated yesterday by its many co-sponsors, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), though it was primarily Rep. Doyle (D-PA) who defended the bill against the crusty arguments of its detractors and gamely accepted a handful of amendments that did not affect the meat of the bill.
In the first amendment, Rep. Burgess (R-TX) asked that the Government Accountability Office issue a report on the potential effect of edge providers on internet freedoms. As we’ve discussed many times before, this red herring argument has to do with an entirely different industry and domain of regulation, and both can and should be looked at — in a bill or investigation of its own. But the report is nonbinding and nonpartisan so it was accepted.
The second, much more ridiculous amendment requires the FCC to list the 700 parts of the Communications Act that the 2015 rules does not invoke. In fact, these forbearances are comprehensively detailed in the rules themselves, which have for years been public and extensively documented and analyzed.
Responding to this request, Doyle was in good humor: “Importantly, this wasn’t an issue at all when these rules were in place for nearly 3 years,” he said. “I’m amazed you didn’t have the list already, Greg, that’s your good friend over there [i.e. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai] and I’m sure a quick phone call would have done it.”
A third amendment, from Rep. Waters (D-CA) commissioned a second report from the GAO, “on the importance of net neutrality and what access to the internet means to vulnerable communities” such as the poor, disabled, elderly, and ethnic minorities. This was accepted without argument, as you can imagine.
A fourth amendment commissioned a third report from the GAO on the benefit and necessity of offering standalone broadband, as opposed to having it bundled with cable, landlines, and other services. This too was accepted without (meaningful) argument.
A fifth requires the FCC to tell Congress what fines it has imposed on ISPs as well as what it actually collected. This information isn’t top secret or anything, so this requirement seems redundant, but the more documentation the better.
The sixth amendment requires the FCC to issue a report on how it would improve the Form 477 data, the self-reported information from internet providers about their coverage and broadband offerings. It is continually found to be more than a little inaccurate, and the FCC itself has been looking into making it better as well.
Are you beginning to see how a two-page law like this one grows to many times its size? At least, however, these amendments are non-destructive and may even prove salutary to future efforts to improve broadband and regulation.
At all events the bill passed today 232-190. Its proponents cheered its success:
“The American people are rightfully demanding that critical net neutrality protections be restored in law, and I’m hopeful this strong House vote helps build momentum for action in the Senate,” said Rep. Pallone (D-NJ) in a statement.
“Today, the House took a firm stand on behalf of internet users across the country,” wrote Mozilla. “We hope that the Senate will recognize the need for strong net neutrality protections and pass this legislation into law. In the meantime, we will continue to fight in the courts as the DC Circuit considers Mozilla v. FCC, our effort to restore essential net neutrality protections for consumers through litigation.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai denounced the “so-called” Save the Internet Act: “This legislation is a big-government solution in search of a problem. The Internet is free and open, while faster broadband is being deployed across America. This bill should not and will not become law.”
But his colleague, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, has a different story: “Their legislative effort gets right what the FCC got so wrong. When the agency rolled back net neutrality protections, it gave broadband providers the power to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content. This decision put the FCC on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”
Commissioner Starks backed her up in his statement: “This administration’s hasty, careless abandonment of the carefully crafted, common sense 2015 Open Internet framework was ill-considered and flat out wrong… I support today’s legislation, which returns us to the 2015 framework, and will follow its consideration in the Senate with interest and hope.”
The bill may be, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called it, “dead on arrival” in the Senate, and the White House has implied its own hostility. But the legislation is popular and the issue a highly visible one that voters will be considering in the 2020 elections. So there may be those in the Senate who will cross the line. We’ll know when it is set forth for consideration there.