Friday, January 16, 2015

Once critics of net neutrality, Republicans now favor it; Democrats wary of GOP motives

Republican lawmakers in Congress, who were once some of the most vocal critics of net-neutrality, are now some of its biggest supporters, Brendan Sasso reports for the National Journal. "For years, members of the party have decried net-neutrality regulation as a 'government takeover of the Internet' that would 'restrict our Internet freedom.' But now, top GOP lawmakers are frantically working on net-neutrality legislation that's even stronger than what many Democrats supported in previous years."

Why the change of heart? "At this point, pushing strong net-neutrality legislation is the only hope that Republicans have to keep the Federal Communications Commission from classifying Internet providers as public utilities like phone companies," Sasso writes. "They fear that move would strangle the Internet with even more onerous regulations."

But some Democrats in Congress fear Republicans are only supporting net-neutrality to get a "watered-down bill that's exactly . . . what the opposition and their lobbyists want," Sen. Al Franken, (D-Minn.), said, Sasso writes. Craig Aaron, the president of activist group Free Press, wrote in an op-ed piece for The Huffington Post that net-neutrality supporters shouldn't be fooled by Republicans. He wrote: "This proposed legislation should be exposed for what it is: a cynical effort by the cable lobby to prevent the FCC from enforcing the law to keep the Internet open. Why would we trust the fiercest opponents of Net Neutrality to protect our Internet freedom?"

At issue is Title II of the Communications Act, Sasso writes. "The FCC could use Title II to not only oversee how the providers manage traffic, but also set retail prices, impose new government fees and determine which customers they have to serve."

The Republicans' net-neutrality bill "would bar the FCC from classifying Internet service under Title II. Instead, it would grant the FCC new authority only to deal with net neutrality," Sasso writes. "The FCC's 2010 net-neutrality rules relied on Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, a nebulous provision that says the agency can 'promote the deployment' of broadband. The Republican principles state that new legislation should clarify that Section 706 doesn't actually give the FCC any power."

"Without Title II, it's the only other real tool the FCC has to regulate Internet providers," Sasso writes. "Killing Section 706 would undercut the FCC's plan to preempt state laws that limit cities from building their own broadband networks. Just this week, Obama urged the FCC to overturn the state restrictions to ensure that local governments can deliver high-speed Internet to their residents if they choose. The FCC plans to vote in February on petitions from Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to invoke Section 706 to preempt their states' laws against city-owned broadband." (Read more)

UPDATE: For a report on the bill from The Washington Post, click here.

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