- House Republicans are offering a way to revive an Obama-era rule that many conservatives believed gave government too much control of the internet.
- Republican lawmakers are trying to rescue parts of net neutrality from the scrap heap without including the parts some conservatives find loathsome.
- Republicans are offering a fix to the now-dead net neutrality: Craft rules that prevent blocking users’ content, but that do not provide the government with too much authority over the internet.
A handful of Republican lawmakers are offering legislation that would revive parts of net neutrality, a controversial regulatory system that some critics believe gives the government too much control over the internet.
Republican Reps. Bob Latta of Ohio and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington are pushing a bill preventing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) against blocking and throttling user content. The proposed legislation would do everything but regulate ISPs under Title II rules, which critics say is anti-market.
Latta and other Republicans believe the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is unable to anticipate the kinds of conduct a rapidly changing and innovating tech platform might create in the future. Many Democrats, on the other hand, believe a Title II designation is the starting point for any regulation, not the jumping off point. Such designations treat the internet as a utility.
Latta’s effort, otherwise known as the Open Internet Act of 2019, is a culmination of many twists and turns. His proposal is a revival of a bill from Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, a Republican and former chair of the House Communications Subcommittee. Walden’s iteration was itself based on a bill offered up in 2015 by Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. Latta is a ranking member on the committee.
Michael Powell, the president of the Internet & Television Association (NCTA), suggested at a Feb. 7 congressional hearing on the topic that his group would support a reinstatement of the 2015 Open Internet Act so long as the new piece did not include the general conduct standard.
Powell and others have fought over the net neutrality concept for years, even as it continues to evolve. Congress made five attempts between 2005 and 2012 to turn the principle into a binding law. The FCC finally issued the Open Internet Order reclassifying ISPs as Title II services during the latter half of the Obama administration. Everything changed after President Donald Trump was elected.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai returned the previous classification of ISPs as Title I services shortly after Trump named him head of the agency. More than 20 states launched a joint lawsuit against the FCC shortly thereafter, with California doing those states one better: The Golden State passed its own state-level net neutrality law, which is being challenged by the federal government. (RELATED: Justice Department Sues California Over Its Net Neutrality Law)
Powell, meanwhile, argues that ISPs do not intentionally create business models that prioritize different users. “Americans have never known anything but an open Internet,” Powell said during a press conference in 2017, noting that an open internet was a concept woven into how the internet was designed.
“One of the great lies is that that’s ever been challenged, or that it’s at risk,” said Powell, who formerly led the FCC. “The bottom line is that nobody has ever represented to me a meaningful business model that would ultimately cause consumers to have a horrible experience.” He was one of only a handful of people at the Feb. 7 hearing who prefers restoring the internet to the pre-Obama era.
Activists argue that the internet would slow down and be relegated to the wealthiest few absent Title II regulations. But conservatives and others who opposed the Obama-era orders frequently point to media reports to rebut that narrative.
Wired magazine, for instance, acknowledged in December 2018, a year after the end of net neutrality, that on the one-year anniversary of the repeal, there have been very few consequential changes. Other outlets made similar points. Since the repeal of the Obama-era rule took effect in June 2018, internet speed went from 12th to sixth fastest in the world, according to media reports.
Latta’s office has not responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about the nature of his legislation.
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