Congress to Consider Net Neutrality

Two congress members have put forward a bill that would overturn a recent court verdict that struck down rules on net neutrality in the United States.

However, the bill does not have cross-party support and appears to have no chance of passing the House of Representatives stage, in turn meaning it won’t become law.

A few weeks ago, a federal appeals court upheld a Verizon challenge against a rule introduced by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010 that specifically blocked broadband carriers for slowing or block specific Internet traffic other than for “reasonable network management.”

The court ruling was not so much about the rule itself, but rather a decision that the FCC didn’t have the power to make such a rule. The court noted that the FCC has previously chosen not to classify broadband providers as being common carriers like phone companies, which are required to simply pass information through. As a result of this classification issue, the court held FCC has only limited power to control how broadband firms handle data.

The FCC is still looking into ways to overcome the ruling, such as appealing on a point of law or trying to change the classification status of broadband firms — something that would likely provoke further legal and political arguments.

However, Democrat Representatives Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo are trying a more direct approach. They’ve introduced a bill that would simply turn the FCC rules into law. The bill stipulates that the rules would remain law until the FCC comes up with new rules in response to the court verdict.

There doesn’t seem to be any realistic prospect of the bill getting past a vote in the House. Another Democrat, Ed Markey, is introducing a similar bill in the Senate which may take a longer route before hitting the same inevitable defeat.

It appears the bills are partly an attempt to move political debate onto the principle of net neutrality (rather than the bureaucracy of rulemaking) and partly political grandstanding by Eshoo. She’s confirmed she wants to replace Waxman when he retires as chief of the House Energy and Commerce committee which, among other topics, oversees tech and communications subjects. That would be a change to the usual procedure where such positions are decided by seniority.

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