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House Passes Bill to Restore Net Neutrality Rules

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill to restore the FCC’s rules of the road for the internet, but the legislation is likely to be blocked in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said it was “dead on arrival.”

The vote was 232-190. The bill, the Save the Internet Act, draw support almost exclusively from Democrats. One Republican, Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.), joined them in support. No Democrats voted against it.

Democrats were hoping to peel away a dozen or so Republican votes to show that the issue was a viable one to press this year and perhaps into the presidential election. The GOP has offered its own net neutrality legislation, but advocates say it falls short in protecting the internet.

The Democrats’ bill restores the FCC’s rules, passed in 2015, that prohibit internet providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or from offering “fast lanes” of service. But it also reclassified internet service as a Title II common carrier, something that gave the agency a regulatory footing to exercise robust oversight over the behavior of ISPs.

After the FCC went to a Republican majority in 2017, its chairman Ajit Pai led a rollback of the rules, characterizing them as an Obama-era regulatory overreach. But the repeal triggered a backlash, as activists, state officials, and public interest groups have challenged the action in court, and state governments have passed their own net neutrality legislation.

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The passage followed extensive debate on the floor of the House. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the legislation would give the FCC the “power to tax the internet” and the “power to regulate speech on the internet.” He and other Republicans believe the FCC’s 2015 rules were a regulatory overreach, as it classified internet service as a common carrier.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said it would give the FCC “forward-looking regulatory authority,” and would enshrine “21st century rules for a 21st century internet.” Doyle chairs the subcommittee on communications and technology. He said although there is agreement among Democrats and Republicans that there should be measures prohibiting blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, there is a need for the FCC to have enforcement authority over future discriminatory behavior by ISPs.

He said opponents of the bill are saying, “We don’t want a cop on the beat to police that. We don’t want to give consumers the right to go to the FCC and get relief from that.”

Net neutrality advocates point to polls showing strong popular support, and hope that will put some pressure on the Senate. “While Senate Majority Leader McConnell said yesterday that the bill is ‘dead on arrival’ in the Senate, the will of the American people will certainly resuscitate it,” said Gigi Sohn, a former FCC official who is now a fellow at the Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy.

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