Democrats Introduce Net Neutrality Bill

House and Senate Democrats introduced Net neutrality legislation designed to preserve FCC anti-discrimination rules that were struck down by a D.C. appellate court last month.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a companion bill in the Senate. The authors said that the legislation would restore the FCC’s rules until it has a chance to take new action to establish Net neutrality provisions that will pass legal muster.

“Our bill very simply ensures that consumers can continue to access the content and applications of their choosing online,” Waxman said in a statement. “The FCC can and must quickly exercise the authorities the D.C. Circuit recognized to reinstate the Open Internet rules.”

The legislation has 12 co-sponsors. But it faces an uncertain future in the House, where the Republican leaders have been critical of the FCC’s rules, arguing that they are unnecessary and stifle innovation.

The FCC passed its Net neutrality rules in 2010, but Verizon challenged its authority to do so. In its ruling last month, the D.C. Circuit recognized that the agency could impose rules of the road for the Internet but found fault with the way the FCC did it. The judges said that the anti-discrimination provision and other rules were akin to the type of regulation that the agency normally gives to “common carriers” like phone services, but the FCC classifies the Internet differently, as an information service.

The D.C. Circuit’s decision unleashed a wave of commentary that the Internet is at risk of becoming like the tier system of cable TV, in which subscribers will be forced to pay more for the most desired content. Eshoo said that “the Internet as we know it suffered a blow.

“By striking down rules that prevented broadband providers from discriminating against or even blocking online content, the court’s decision threatens the openness and freedom that has defined the success of the Internet,” Eshoo said.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has not said which next step the agency will take. Although one of the straightforward approaches would be for the FCC to classify the Internet as a common carrier or telecommunications service, Republican lawmakers have warned that such a move would face a storm of protest from telecommunications firms and broadband providers, as well as Wall Street investors.

There is pressure to restore the rules. Last week, Free Press and a coalition of 80 organizations delivered petitions with more than 1 million signatures to reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service.

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