Democrats in the US House of Representatives yesterday rejected Republican attempts to weaken a bill that would restore net neutrality rules.
The House Commerce Committee yesterday approved the “Save the Internet Act” in a 30-22 party-line vote, potentially setting up a vote of the full House next week. The bill is short and simple—it would fully reinstate the rules implemented by the Federal Communications Commission under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015, reversing the repeal led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in 2017.
Commerce Committee Republicans repeatedly introduced amendments that would weaken the bill but were consistently rebuffed by the committee’s Democratic majority. “The Democrats beat back more than a dozen attempts from Republicans to gut the bill with amendments throughout the bill’s markup that lasted 9.5 hours,” reported yesterday.
Republican amendments would have weakened the bill by doing the following:
Another Republican amendment would have imposed net neutrality rules but declared that broadband is an information service. This would have prevented the FCC from imposing any other type of common-carrier regulations on ISPs.
The committee did approve a Democratic amendment to exempt ISPs with 100,000 or fewer subscribers from the transparency rules, but only for one year.
GOP: “More government socialism”
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) claimed that the Democrats’ bill “is not the net neutrality that people want” and is “actually more government socialism,” according to .
But the primary opponents of the FCC’s net neutrality rules were broadband providers and Republicans in Congress, not the people at large. Polls showed that the FCC’s repeal was opposed by most Americans: “Eighty-six percent oppose the repeal of net neutrality, including 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats,” the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland reported last year after surveying nearly 1,000 registered voters.
“It’s embarrassing watching telecom shills in these committee votes attempt to turn this into a partisan issue when it’s actually quite simple: no one wants their cable company to control what they can see and do on the Internet, or manipulate where they get their news, how they listen to music, or what apps they can use,” Deputy Director Evan Greer of advocacy group Fight for the Future said.
The now-repealed net neutrality rules prohibited ISPs from blocking or throttling lawful content and from charging online services for prioritization. The Democrats’ bill would reinstate those rules and other consumer protections that used to be enforced by the FCC. For example, Pai’s repeal vote also wiped out a requirement that ISPs be more transparent with customers about hidden fees and the consequences of exceeding data caps.
“Our bill protects consumers and small businesses from abusive and discriminatory practices by Internet service providers and protects free speech and innovation,” Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said after yesterday’s vote. “It’s time for the full House to vote to keep the Internet open and free, and I will work to make that happen soon.”
Long odds in GOP-controlled Senate
Republicans in the FCC and Congress have claimed that the Federal Trade Commission can pick up the slack under its antitrust authority, but FTC Chairman Joseph Simons last week said that “blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization would be antitrust violations.” In other words, ISPs can violate net neutrality as long as they publicly disclose that they are doing so.
Even if the Democrats’ bill passes the House, it will still face long odds, because Republicans control the Senate and President Trump has opposed net neutrality rules.
The Senate did vote to reinstate net neutrality rules in May 2018, when three Republicans joined the Democratic minority in a 52-47 vote. But Republicans have since strengthened their Senate majority from 51-49 to 53-47.