Legislators dim hopes for a bipartisan solution

Efforts to find a legislative compromise on Net neutrality stalled out Wednesday after GOP lawmakers balked at a proposed bill.

In a statement, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the proposal was scrapped after Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking member on the committee, decided not to support the legislation and dimmed hopes for a bipartisan solution.

Waxman said he hasn’t closed the door on revisiting the legislation in the lame duck session after the midterm elections but said that short of an agreement, the FCC should reclassify broadband as a “Title II” telecommunications service. The commission is considering such a move, which would give it solid legal authority to oversee the Internet, but cable companies and telcos have been steadfast in their opposition. “If Congress can’t act, the FCC must,” Waxman said.

Waxman, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and others had attempted to find common ground on Net neutrality in lieu of the FCC taking the step of reclassification. A draft of a bill circulated earlier this week would have prohibited Internet providers from discriminating against lawful Internet traffic, something that would give an advantage to certain types of content over others. But the proposal left some leeway for wireless providers and prohibited the FCC from moving to “Title II” for two years. Instead, the commission would have been given the authority to act on complaints on a case-by-case basis, with increased fines of up to $2 million for violations.

Waxman said he worked over the past month with a number of disparate groups on opposing sides of the issue, including staunch Net neutrality advocate org Public Knowledge and some of is chief skeptics, AT&T and Verizon.

“This development is a loss for consumers and a gain only for the extremes,” Waxman said. “We need to break the deadlock on Net neutrality so that we can focus on building the most open and robust Internet possible.”

Republicans and a sizable number of Democrats have expressed opposition to the FCC’s plan to reclassify the Internet, with any such action not coming until late November at the earliest.

The latest legislative maneuvering could serve to bolster Republican opposition, particularly if the GOP regains control of one or more chambers of Congress in the November elections.

In a statement, Barton said that Waxman’s effort at compromise was a “tacit admission that the FCC is going down the wrong path, a path that will stifle investment and create regulatory overhang on one of the most dynamic sectors of our economy.”

He added that, given the pending congressional recess, “There is not sufficient time to ensure that chairman Waxman’s proposal will keep the Internet open without chilling innovation and job creation.”

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