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Democrats Introduce Bill to Restore FCC’s Net-Neutrality Rules

Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation that would restore net-neutrality rules struck down last month by a federal appeals court.

Rep. Henry Waxman. (Photo: Public Citizen / Flickr)

Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation that would restore net-neutrality rules struck down last month by a federal appeals court. But the bill faces a steep uphill battle in the House, where some Republicans oppose any expansion of regulatory power at the FCC.

Democrats in Congress introduced legislation Monday that would restore the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net-neutrality rules that were struck down by a federal appeals court last month.

The move comes just days after activists representing more than 80 organizations, including the Free Press, Common Cause and, delivered a petition with 1 million signatures to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler demanding that the agency take action on restoring net neutrality regulations. Last week, President Obama said in a Google hangout that he supports net neutrality and is confident that the FCC will use its authority to protect the open internet.

In January, a federal court threw out the FCC’s net-neutrality rules after a challenge from Verizon. The court also affirmed the FCC’s ability to regulate the Internet, and the FCC could set new net-neutrality rules if it decides to reclassify the web as a “common carrier” telecommunications service like telephone lines instead of an information service.

Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, and in 2010, the FCC issued Open Internet rules that prevented broadband providers from blocking and discriminating against web content. Before being thrown out, the rules kept broadband providers from awarding faster loading speeds to websites that pay special fees and blocking lawful websites and applications, such as those offered by their competition.

The telecomm industry and anti-regulation activists say net neutrality rules stifle innovation and put too much power in the hands of the FCC, but open Internet advocates says net neutrality rules are needed to protect consumers and innovative web startups as well as the voices of minority groups online. Without net neutrality, they argue, big telecomm companies such as AT&T would shape the Internet to maximize profit.

The legislation introduced this week would restore the net neutrality rules thrown out in court until the FCC makes a final decision on enforcing net neutrality. California Democrats Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo introduced the bill in the House, and Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, is expected to introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

“Our bill very simply ensures that consumers can continue to access the content and applications of their choosing online,” said Waxman, a ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “The FCC can and must quickly exercise the authorities the [court] recognized to reinstate the Open Internet rules. Our bill makes clear that consumers and innovators will be protected in the interim.”

The bill faces a steep uphill battle in the GOP-controlled House, where some Republicans openly oppose any expansion of regulatory power at the FCC, including Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee, which must take up the bill.

Wheeler has pledged to take swift action on net neutrality at recent public appearances but has remained vague as to his plans for addressing the issue. Progressive activists hope he will push the FCC to classify the web as a “common carrier” service and assume broad regulatory power over the Internet to protect consumers, but Wheeler has hinted that he may prefer taking a piecemeal approach and go after service providers that make anticompetitive moves on a case-by-case basis.

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