On a party-line vote, the House Energy and Commerce Committee today adopted a revised version of the Save the Internet Act (HR 1644) after repeatedly rejecting Republican proposed amendments, including amendments that would “enshrine permanent forbearance” from certain common carrier regulations, prevent FCC rate regulation under sections 201 and 202 of the Communications Act, and bar the FCC from regulating content on the Internet.
The sole amendment to the manager’s amendment in the nature of a substitute (AINS) that won approval was offered by communications and technology subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D., Pa.), the sponsor of the Save the Internet Act. It would provide for a one-year exemption from the enhanced transparency rule in the FCC’s 2015 open Internet order for Internet service providers (ISPs) with 100,000 or fewer subscribers.
Consideration of about a dozen proposed amendments to the AINS — only one of which was adopted — and breaks for floor votes, Budget Committee votes, and a joint session of Congress to hear from North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg extended the markup of the Save the Internet Act into the early evening, ending at TR Daily’s news deadline with two 30-22 votes to adopt the AINS, as amended by Mr. Doyle’s small-provider transparency-exemption amendment, and then to approve the underlying HR 1644. Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) said he intended to file the report on HR 1644 with the full House on Friday.
Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) has proposed a companion bill in the Republican-controlled Senate, where prospects for passage are much dimmer than in the Democratic-controlled House.
The Save the Internet Act would rescind the FCC’s 2017 restoring Internet freedom (RIF) order, which had classified broadband Internet access service (BIAS) as an information service subject to light regulation under Title I of the Communications Act. The Save the Internet Act would also reinstate the FCC’s 2015 open Internet order, including classification of BIAS as a telecommunications service subject to common carrier regulation under Title II of the Communications Act. It would also restore the 2015 order’s bright-line rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization and its general conduct standard, under which the FCC could address unjust, unreasonable, and discriminatory practices not covered by the bright-line rules (TR Daily, March 6).
The markup began with Rep. Doyle’s offer of the AINS, which he said would clarify the forbearance provisions of the bill by defining and clarifying the “operative effect” of restoring the 2015 order as it was in effect as of Jan. 19, 2017. The AINS “leaves in place the FCC’s ability to put in place new rules to address ISPs’ actions that violate net neutrality,” Mr. Doyle said.
Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R., Va.) raised a point that Republican members returned to repeatedly throughout the day regarding the lack of a list of the 700 FCC rules that Democrats say would be “permanently” forborn from under the Save the Internet Act.
Committee ranking minority member Greg Walden (R., Ore.) said that Republicans had asked the Congressional Research Service, “as an independent arbiter,” to weigh in on whether the original version of the Save the Internet Act “would have allowed FCC to go back and make new rules,” and that in a response yesterday, CRS had said that the bill has “not closed the door on these matters.”
Mr. Walden added that by not forbearing from sections 201 and 202 of the Communications Act, the FCC’s 2015 order and the Save the Internet Act leave “wide open doors” for rate regulation, network regulation, and other heavy-handed actions by the FCC. “What we are being told is this bill does not accomplish what it is said it will accomplish,” he added.
Communications subcommittee ranking minority member Bob Latta (R., Ohio) said that CRS said that the original bill doesn’t seem to preclude the FCC from “revising” its 2015 forbearance decisions.
Rep. Doyle said that the FCC had said in its 2015 order which sections of the code of Federal Regulation contain the 700 rules forborn from.
In his opening statement, Rep. Walden said that questions raised by Republicans at last week’s subcommittee markup (TR Daily, March 26) “confirmed there is a really high level of uncertainty about what the so-called ‘Save the Internet Act’ really does.”
Rep. Walden added, “We have a strong bipartisan consensus on rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, and we could enact these net neutrality protections today, but instead the majority seems to be dead set on using the net neutrality debate to give the federal government near unlimited and unchecked authority to regulate the internet.”
In his opening statement, Rep. Latta said that “[i]f Congress restores Title II [regulation of broadband access service], it should ensure no future Commission can regulate rates, tax the Internet, take control of networks, or even regulate free speech online.”
He added, “If we don’t want the government to do something, we should make that very clear.”
Among the defeated amendments proposed by Republicans to the AINS were one from Rep. Walden to make forbearance permanent; one from Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.) to prohibit rate regulation under sections 201 and 202; one from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) to prevent FCC regulation of Internet content; one from Rep. Bill Flores (R., Texas) to prevent the FCC from imposing taxes or fees on consumer broadband Internet access services; one from Rep. Greg Gianforte (R., Mont.) to prevent the FCC from imposing network management fees; and an amendment jointly proposed by Rep. Latta and Rep. Susan Brooks (R., Ind.) to keep the FCC from asserting control over broadband networks.
One Republican-proposed amendment, offered by Rep. Walden, won the support of one Democrat, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.). It would have extended the exemption from the enhanced transparency rules from one year to five, and from ISPs with 100,000 or fewer subscribers to ISPs with 250,000 or fewer subscribers. Rep. Walden noted that the House has twice passed legislation to achieve that end, once on a unanimous roll-call vote and once by voice vote.
In a statement, Phillip Berenbroick, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, said the committee’s “vote re-confirms the FCC’s responsibility to protect consumers and provide oversight of broadband providers. Chairman Pallone, Chairman Doyle, and the members of the Energy and Commerce Committee who voted to report the Save the Internet Act deserve significant credit for their long-standing commitment to consumer protection and protecting the Open Internet.”
Mr. Berenbroick added, “We urge members of the House to support the Save the Internet Act, and ask House Leadership to move quickly to consider the bill. Since the current FCC voted to eliminate net neutrality protections in 2017, broadband providers have slowly and carefully moved to erode the concepts of net neutrality in their business practices and their advocacy. Restoring the FCC’s traditional consumer protection and oversight role over telecommunications services, and enshrining net neutrality protections in statute, is essential to ensuring and protecting economic opportunity and basic access to communications for all.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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