GOP's net neutrality bill opens option for "fast lane" plans

The loss of net neutrality in a 3-2 party-line vote by the FCC has caused a wave of reaction from consumer groups and politicians. Lawsuits have been threatened to overturn the Title II repeal, while Congress is talking seriously about enacting a net neutrality law. However, the first bill introduced seems to do little in the way of offering the same protections that the FCC took away.

The bill, known as the Open Internet Preservation Act, was introduced by House Communications and Technology subcommittee chairperson U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who has previously come out as anti-Title II before. She proposed the ill-fated Internet Freedom Act in 2015, which would have overwritten the FCC's infant net neutrality ruling before it ever became official. The act, however, did not make it through Congress.

While not as strict as the old proposal, the new bill would continue to classify ISPs as information services, the less strict Title I measure by which ISPs had been ruled before net neutrality. The bill specifically says that ISPs cannot block or throttle content, but the classification does not include the Title II provision that forbids ISPs from charging companies or online services for prioritization. The "information services" classification would also keep the FCC from ever being able to regulate ISPs at the higher level of common carriers.

In addition, the proposed legislation preempts states from getting involved and creating their own net neutrality laws. The FCC would be the arbiter of complaints against ISPs, and could not enact any rules that may counter what is in the bill.

Net neutrality advocates were not happy with the proposal.

  • Evan Greer, campaign director of consumer group Fight for the Future: "This is not real net neutrality legislation. 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."
  • Craig Aaron, CEO of consumer group Free Press: "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."
  • Lobbying group Internet Association: "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."

Members of the GOP praised the bill, including FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who was one of the members in favor of the net neutrality repeal. The bill "offers a realistic opportunity for compromise and finality on this much-debated issue," he said in a statement.

The bill has a long way to go for acceptance. Democrats have been pushing for a vote to overturn the FCC's repeal. Also, various state attorneys general are planning to file suit to reinstate net neutrality.

Either way, lawsuits and congressional action have some time before the repeal actually goes into effect. By law, the FCC ruling will not be official until 60 days after it appears in the Federal Register, which could take as long as six weeks to occur.

Image: Variety

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