Republican Lawmaker Introduces Net Neutrality Legislation

Marsha Blackburn Net Neutrality

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced net neutrality legislation on Tuesday that prohibits internet providers from blocking and throttling content, but does not address whether ISPs can create so-called “fast lanes” of traffic for sites willing to pay for it.

The legislation also would require that ISPs disclose their terms of service, and ensure that federal law preempts any state efforts to establish rules of the road for internet traffic.

“A lot of our innovators are saying, ‘Let’s go with things we have agreement on, and other things can be addressed later,'” Blackburn told Variety.

She said that she was “very hopeful” about the prospects for the legislation because “an open internet and preserving that open internet is what people want to see happen. Let’s preserve it. Let’s nail it down. Let’s stop the ping-ponging from one FCC commission to another. This is something where the Congress should act.”

Blackburn chairs a House subcommittee on communications and technology.

Last week, the FCC voted 3-2 to reverse most of the net neutrality rules put in place just over two years earlier, including bans on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.

The move, passed along a party-line vote, dramatically scaled back the FCC’s authority over internet providers. It did update rules that require ISPs to disclose how they handle web traffic and, like Blackburn’s bill, makes federal legislation supersede state and local laws.

Democrats condemned the FCC’s action, and a handful of Republicans expressed concerns that the moves eliminated consumer protections.

The FCC also rolled back the regulatory framework for the net neutrality rules, in which ISPs were reclassified as Title II common carriers. Blackburn said that “getting out from Title II is the right thing to do,” adding that lighter regulation was needed to boost investment.

But she said that “there is a need to address things where there is agreement. No blocking, no throttling.”

Sen. John Thune (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has also called for net neutrality legislation. He unveiled a proposal in 2015 that would have banned blocking and throttling of content, as well as paid prioritization.

Craig Aaron, Free Press Action Fund president and CEO, called Blackburn’s legislation “fake net neutrality.”

“Blackburn’s legislation fails at the very thing it claims to accomplish,” he said in a statement. “It prohibits a few open-internet violations, but opens the door to rampant abuse through paid-prioritization schemes that would split the internet into fast lanes for the richest companies and slow lanes for everyone else.

“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.”

Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, which represents companies like Google, Facebook and Netflix, said, “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.”