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House subcommittee advances Democratic-backed net neutrality bill

A U.S. House subcommittee voted to advance a Democratic-backed net neutrality bill to a full committee review in an 18-11 vote with no amendments March 26 after several Republican members voiced concerns about potential overregulation.

The bill, known as the Save the Internet Act, would restore the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet Order from 2015, which classified broadband as a Title II telecommunications service and gave the FCC more authority to regulate broadband service providers. It also prohibited broadband service providers from blocking or throttling legal internet traffic or prioritizing specific traffic in exchange for payment.

The bill will now move forward for a vote by the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a March 18 letter to colleagues that he intends for the legislation to be considered by the full House during the week of April 8.

If the Democratic-backed bill is able to pass the House, it faces long odds to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who serves as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over net neutrality issues, has previously praised the FCC's 2018 order that repealed the Open Internet Order. The proposed legislation currently only has Democratic co-sponsors.

The Open Internet Order was repealed by the Republican-led FCC in a 2018 order, which reclassified broadband as a Title I information service.

SNL Image

Members of a House subcommittee consider the Save the
Internet Act on March 26.

Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

"The bill before us returns the FCC to its traditional oversight role and restores the net neutrality protections that both Democrats and Republicans demand," Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee said in prepared remarks at the markup. "Without this legislation, there is no backstop to make sure big corporations don't use their power to undermine and silence their small competitors or the political opposition."

House Republicans, however, have rejected the idea that broadband needs to be reclassified as Title II and instead have encouraged Democrats to work with them on a bipartisan bill that restores prohibitions on blocking or throttling of legal internet traffic or prioritizing specific traffic in exchange for payment.

"Title II is not necessary to preserve a free and open internet," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., ranking member of the full committee, in prepared remarks. "In fact, quite the opposite – Title II could provide the federal government near unlimited and unchecked authority to regulate the internet."

The chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., however, argued that the bill would not bring about heavy-handed regulation.

"The bill permanently prohibits the FCC from engaging in rate setting, requiring that broadband providers unbundle their network, or levying additional taxes or fees on broadband access," Doyle said.

While the Open Internet Order grants forbearance from 27 Title II provisions for broadband service and over 700 commission rules and regulations, some Republicans expressed concern that the order opens the door for those regulations to be exercised or applied in the future.

Walden said his reading of the FCC's forbearance authority in the 2015 order suggests additional fees or taxes on the internet could be brought about by the commission in the future if it decides to disregard the forbearance in the order.

The committee's legal staff said the FCC would lack the discretion to revisit forbearance issues under the current draft legislation.