GOP net neutrality bill would allow paid fast lanes and preempt state laws

Enlarge/ US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) delivers a speech at the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.Getty Images | Alex Wong

A Republican lawmaker is proposing a net neutrality law that would ban blocking and throttling, but the bill would allow ISPs to create paid fast lanes and prohibit state governments from enacting their own net neutrality laws. The bill would also prohibit the FCC from imposing any type of common carrier regulations on broadband providers.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) announced the "Open Internet Preservation Act" in a video posted to Twitter.

"We can do this now that [FCC] Chairman [Ajit] Pai has successfully done his job of getting the net neutrality rules off the books," said Blackburn, who is chairperson of a congressional telecommunications subcommittee.

@AjitPaiFCC has done his job, now it's up to Congress to do theirs. This bill will ensure there is no blocking, no throttling. It is my honor to sign this bill- let's get it to @realDonaldTrump's desk.

— Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) December 19, 2017

The bill text is available here. It would amend the Communications Act "to prohibit blocking of lawful content, applications, services, and non-harmful devices, [and] to prohibit impairment or degradation of lawful Internet traffic."

Unlike the net neutrality rules repealed by Pai's FCC last week, the bill would not prohibit ISPs from charging websites or online services for prioritization.

Blackburn's bill would define broadband Internet access as an "information service," preventing the FCC from ever regulating home and mobile Internet providers as common carriers. This prohibition would prevent the reinstatement of numerous consumer protections besides the net neutrality rules.

State governments would also be limited in their ability to regulate, as Blackburn's bill would preempt states from imposing "any law, rule, regulation, duty, requirement, standard, or other provision" related to net neutrality.

Blackburn's bill would let the FCC enforce the no-blocking and no-throttling rules, but it would forbid the commission from adding any new requirements to the rules. The FCC would be required to adopt formal complaint procedures to address alleged violations.

This would be a change from Pai's repeal order, which would allow ISPs to block, throttle, and prioritize Internet traffic as long as they disclose such actions publicly.

“Slap in the face to Internet users”

Net neutrality advocates said Blackburn's proposal doesn't offer real protections.

"This is not real net neutrality legislation," Fight for the Future Campaign Director Evan Greer said. "It's a poorly disguised slap in the face to Internet users from across the political spectrum. Blackburn's bill would explicitly allow Internet providers to demand new fees from small businesses and Internet users, carving up the Web into fast lanes and slow lanes."

CEO Craig Aaron of consumer advocacy group Free Press offered a similar reaction:

This bill's true goal is to let a few unregulated monopolies and duopolies stifle competition and control the future of communications. This cynical attempt to offer something the tiniest bit better than what the FCC did and pretend it's a compromise is an insult to the millions who are calling on Congress to restore real net neutrality.

The bill is "net neutrality in name only," according to the Internet Association, a lobby group for websites such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Netflix.

"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 group said.

Blackburn's embrace of no-blocking and no-throttling rules is a change from 2015 when she authored the "Internet Freedom Act," a failed proposal that would have wiped out net neutrality rules entirely.

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, a Republican, said the bill "offers a realistic opportunity for compromise and finality on this much-debated issue."

But Democrats aren't likely to accept Blackburn's proposal. They are trying to force a vote that would reinstate the net neutrality rules in full.

Separately, state attorneys general from New York, Washington, and other states plan to sue the FCC to overturn the repeal. Similarly to Blackburn's legislation, last week's FCC repeal vote attempts to preempt states from regulating net neutrality.

Original Article

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