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Democrats' Net Neutrality Bill Would Force Ajit Pai to Actually Do His Job

Mar 7, 2019
Democrats' Net Neutrality Bill Would Force Ajit Pai to Actually Do His Job
Photo: AP / Carolyn Kaster

Top congressional Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation to restore the open internet rules repealed by the Trump administration in December 2017.

Democrats in the House and Senate introduced companions bills aimed at reinstating the Obama-era net neutrality rules that prohibited broadband providers from blocking or throttling websites or offering preferred businesses higher-quality service for additional fees.

The bill would further restore the Federal Communications Commission's expansive authority to regulate internet service in the United States and penalize providers for "unjust and unreasonable" practices negatively affecting small business and consumers.

At a press conference announcing the legislation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that reinstating net neutrality would help promote American democracy and economic possibilities. "Democrats are proudly taking bold action to restore net neutrality protections: lowering costs and increasing choice for consumers, giving entrepreneurs a level playing field on which to compete, helping bring broadband to every corner of the country."

The bill would nullify the FCC vote to reclassify broadband access as an "information service" under Title I of the Communications Act. "It would also prevent the FCC from once again reversing the 2015 declaratory ruling and order, which classified broadband internet access service as a Title II telecommunications service," said Free Press Director Timothy Karr.

In essence, the FCC would no longer be able to abdicate its responsibility on a whim to protect users from the discriminatory practices of internet providers. The law would instead compel the agency, absent some future act of Congress, to defend the net neutrality principles in every state.

Both of the FCC's Democratic commissioners--Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks--issued statements supporting the bill. "I am hopeful that the bill introduced today will energize folks across the country that care about Net Neutrality and lead to restoration of the common-sense protections," Starks said. The bill was also endorsed Wednesday afternoon by the Internet Association, which represents the interests of dozens of major internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Gigi Sohn, who helped draft the 2015 order and was counselor to former FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler, likewise applauded the bill's authors, asserting the law, if passed, would "promote competition and ensure affordable access in the broadband market."

Republicans at the FCC scrapped the rules in a party-line vote less than a year after President Donald Trump took office. The commission's chairman, Ajit Pai, has consistently claimed the so-called "light-touch regulations" establish in their place would give broadband providers more incentive to innovate and build networks; whereas the old rules, he said, had hampered investment and deployment.

Pai's frequent remarks about the harms allegedly caused by the Obama-era rules were often contradicted by the broadband providers themselves. And as of at least late January, the new jobs and industry-wide investments Pai promised had not materialized.

Far from it, AT&T and Verizon initiated huge layoffs in the United States last year, despite also benefiting hugely from Trump tax cuts. In October, Verizon also announced that it had no plans to accelerate its 5G deployment.

The Democrats, who won control of the House in the November 2018 elections, also noted that the GOP-controlled Senate already voted one year ago to reinstate the net neutrality rules with the help of three Republicans.

"When we talk about a free and open internet, we mean an internet that is free from corporate control and open to anyone to communicate, innovate and connect," said Senator Ed Markey. "The Save the Internet Act is clear and simple: overturn the Trump FCC's wrongheaded decision and restore strong net neutrality protections."

The FCC did not respond to a request for comment.

You can read a copy of the Senate bill here.

This article was updated with additional comments from Gigi Sohn, Free Press Director Tim Karr, and FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.