House Democrats Push for Bipartisan Working Group on Net Neutrality
Nearly 50 Democratic House members have signed a letter seeking the formation of a bipartisan working group to draft compromise legislation that would restore at least some form of net neutrality.
The 47 signers of the letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., all voted in favor of the Save the Internet Act, which in April passed the House by a 232-190 vote, largely along party lines.
As their letter makes clear, however, they see the effort to reinstate net neutrality rules put in place by Obama-era Open Internet Order as dead on arrival in the Senate.
The measure that passed the House would once again make it unlawful for internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon to block or throttle consumer access to the internet.
It would also empower the FCC as the main authority to enforce those rules under Title II of the Communications Act.
Classifying internet providers as Title II common carriers, rather than Title I communications services, subjects them to a higher regulatory standard similar to telephone, gas, and electric services.
These are nonstarters for Republicans, but Representative Greg Walden, R-Ore., the ranking GOP member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said on the House floor last month that members of his party have “serious proposals — a menu of options — that would keep the Internet open and free, so it can continue to be a driver of opportunity for all.”
The Democrats who signed on to the letter want to sit down with Republicans in order to come up with “bipartisan, bicameral legislation that can be signed into law.”
“We recognize that this legislation is unlikely to become law, or pass through the Senate, in its current form,” the letter said. “If that proves true, consumers will be left without enforceable net neutrality protections while partisan conflict continues. We believe this result is unacceptable and unnecessary.”
On Thursday, Walden and other top Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee co-signed the effort to create a working group.
In a statement released after the Democrats’ letter was made public, he and the leading Republicans on the committee’s communications and consumer protection subcommittees, Bob Latta, R-Ohio and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., said they support the effort.
“We have long said that a permanent, bipartisan legislative solution produced in good faith with our Democratic colleagues is the only way to protect consumers, innovation, and an open internet,” the Republicans said. “We welcome our colleagues’ engagement, and hope that a bipartisan working group can be a successful incubator for true bipartisan net neutrality legislation.”
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank for science and technology policy, said the effort is long past due.
“It is high time for both sides of this supposed ‘battle for the net’ to put down their weapons and end this perpetual war,” said Doug Brake, the foundation’s director of broadband and spectrum policy.
“The Save the Internet Act, as flawed as it was, never had a chance of advancing through the Senate or getting the President’s signature,” Brake said. “Let’s stop rolling the dice with each court case and every election cycle. Let’s stop holding out for the total win that seems just around the corner but never actually arrives. The Internet deserves better.
“Instead, Congress should work on a modern regulatory framework that reflects the 21st century communications marketplace. Congress can and should craft strong net neutrality protections that give users and businesses confidence in our networks, while doing real work to help close the digital divide with funding for rural infrastructure and digital literacy programs,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Majority Leader Hoyer said he is reviewing the letter and will discuss the idea with members. “The House has acted, and we will continue to put pressure on the Senate to take up the Save the Internet Act,” she said on behalf of Hoyer.
Speaker Pelosi and Whip Clyburn did not respond to requests for comment.
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