×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Could Congress Settle the Net Neutrality Debate, Once and for All?

WASHINGTON — As net neutrality goes through its fourth go-around in the courts, what are the chances that Congress will find a fix?

The new Democratic House majority held its first hearing on the issue on Thursday, and Republicans came to the session with a series of legislative proposals.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the committee’s ranking member, said he was introducing legislation that would prohibit ISPs from blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. Other legislation is being proposed by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), ranking member of the communications and technology subcommittee, and another from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash).

“Despite the long track record on net neutrality, I believe there is plenty of room for consensus here,” Latta said.

The odds of that happening, however, are still long.

Democrats want to see the text of the legislation, but they’ve rejected GOP proposals in recent years, deeming them as offering insufficient protections and FCC oversight.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who chairs the communications and technology subcommittee, told reporters after the hearing that “the devil is also in the details.”

He suggested that Democrats would want more than just a set of rules to prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.

“What we are interested in is that there are strong protections for consumers that not only cover things that were done in the past, but we do in the future too. The technology changes daily, we don’t know what next year looks like. So we want to make sure that whatever we do, that there is the flexibility there to deal with events in the future as well as events in the past.”

The Obama-era FCC in 2015 adopted a set of net neutrality rules that included a “general conduct” standard, which essentially ensured that the agency could be a watchdog for ISPs’ unreasonable, harmful behavior as technology evolved.

That “general conduct” standard was rooted in the Obama-era FCC’s move to reclassify internet service as a Title II common carrier, a regulatory maneuver that put the agency on a more solid legal footing to enforce robust rules of the road.

But the Trump-era FCC rolled back net neutrality and the reclassification, stripping the agency of a good chunk of its authority and leaving ISPs with few rules at all.

Net neutrality activists sounded the alarm, Democratic lawmakers campaigned on the need for stricter regulations, and some states even passed their own rules. The Trump-era FCC’s repeal is being challenged in court, and a three-judge panel that heard the case last week is expected to rule by this summer.

“Until strong open internet protections are enacted, our only hope is that millions of Americans are fed up and will hold Congress accountable for passing strong net neutrality laws,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

At the hearing, Republicans continued to attack the Title II reclassification as regulatory overreach.

One of the witnesses, former FCC chairman Michael Powell, now the head of the cable industry lobby NCTA — The Internet and Television Association, said there was “unique common ground” to establish a set of net neutrality rules.

When he was chairman of the FCC, he spelled out a set of net neutrality “fundamental freedoms,” which were broad principles tied to the idea that consumers can access any content of their choosing. Although those principles were not regulations, Powell on Thursday argued that it’s in the interest of ISPs to stick to them. “I think it is a misnomer that ISPs don’t have a corporate self-interest in an open Internet,” he said.

Also testifying was Tom Wheeler, who led the FCC when it passed the 2015 rules. He suggested that legislation should be based on that regulatory framework, including provisions that would ensure that the government would have oversight as the ecosystem evolves.

“We do not know what the internet is going to be,” he said. “We can’t sit here and make Netflix-era decisions that may not apply tomorrow.”

He argued that wanting an open internet, but not common carrier rules is “like saying I am for justice, but not the courts overseeing it.”

As much as the different sides reiterated their positions in the hearing, some lawmakers came away more optimistic that a compromise eventually could be worked out. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) said he was “very pleased with the tenor and tone of the conversation, and I think there is an opportunity by the end of this Congress to legislate.”

Popular on Variety

More Politics

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Court Justice

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg Treated for Pancreatic Cancer

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been cleared “definitively” of pancreatic cancer after spending three weeks undergoing treatment in New York City for the illness. The Supreme Court issued a statement on Friday saying that the Justice responded well to radiation treatment. In early July, Ginsberg underwent a regular blood test that came back abnormal, and [...]

  • Taylor SwiftTeen Choice Awards, Arrivals, Los

    Taylor Swift Says She's 'Remorseful' For Not Getting Involved in 2016 Election

    Taylor Swift says she feels “really remorseful for not saying anything” during Trump’s run for presidency in 2016, per an interview with the Guardian published today. The singer points to her negative public image during the time of the election as one reason she stayed uninvolved, but explained that she would’ve endorsed Hillary Clinton for [...]

  • US President Donald J. Trump speaks

    Apple Stock Down 4.6% After Trump ‘Orders’ Companies to Leave China

    Apple’s share price was down around 4.6% Friday at the close of the market, to $202.64 per share, after President Trump took to Twitter to “order” U.S. companies to leave China. The slide came amid a market-wide sell-off, with the NASDAQ sliding 3%, and the Dow dropping 623 points. Trump’s edict was a response to [...]

  • David Koch Obit

    David Koch, Libertarian Activist and Billionaire Philanthropist, Dies at 79

    David Koch, brother of Charles Koch and one of the owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the U.S., has died at 79. According to the New York Times, Charles Koch announced the news of his brother’s death in a statement. Though he did not attribute to David’s death to a particular cause, [...]

  • Pod Save America Hosts on Trump

    'Pod Save America' Hosts on Trump, the Democratic Primary and What's Wrong With Cable News

    Like many Democrats, Tanya Somanader was blindsided by the 2016 presidential election. A veteran of the Obama White House and a former speechwriter and digital specialist for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Somanader was gearing up for a Hillary Clinton administration. Instead, she had to grapple with the reality of a Donald Trump presidency. “A lot [...]

  • Sean Spicer Dancing With the Stars

    Sean Spicer Hopes 'Dancing With the Stars' Gig Will 'Move the Country Forward'

    In the face of a swift backlash, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he hoped his role as a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” can help “move the country forward in a positive way.” Spicer told CNN on Thursday that his “DWTS” posting was about entertainment, not politics. ABC revealed Spicer [...]

  • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a

    Bolsonaro LGBTQI Outburst, Subsidy Freeze, Stirs Outrage

    Ramping up the drive into censorship in Brazil, its Minister of Citizenship, Omar Terra, has suspended a call for applications for governmental TV funding – until new criteria are established for its application. The country’s secretary for culture, Henrique Pires, who reports to Terra, has resigned in protest of the incentive freeze. The suspension, for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content