|June 26, 2014|
Previously published on June 20, 2014
The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act was introduced Tuesday by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-HI). Democrats, however, acknowledge the bill isn’t going to become law but say they are introducing the legislation to send a message to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
"We put forth the bill to put increased pressure on the FCC to ban paid-prioritization agreements," an aide to a bill supporter explained.
Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. The FCC first enacted net-neutrality rules in 2010 that barred Internet service providers from blocking any websites or from "unreasonably" discriminating against any traffic.
A federal court struck those rules down earlier this year, and now FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is trying to rewrite them in a way that can survive future court challenges. His proposal would still bar Internet providers from blocking websites but would allow providers to charge sites for faster service as long as the agreements are "commercially reasonable."
Internet activists, major Web companies such as Google, and many Democrats on Capitol Hill fear that change could create a two-tiered Internet that benefits the richest corporations and limits free speech.
Wheeler expected to take criticism from Republicans, who are skeptical of the government telling broadband providers how to manage their networks. But the growing opposition to his proposal from Democrats could leave the FCC chief in a tenuous political position. Even the White House has offered little support, noting that the FCC is an "independent agency."
Wheeler needs the votes of both Democrats on the five-member commission to enact his proposed regulations. But those commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, might not be eager to help the chairman if he's all alone on the issue.
The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would instruct the FCC to enact rules banning paid prioritization within 90 days of the bill becoming law. The bill would also call for rules banning Internet providers from favoring content they own or are affiliated with.
The bill avoids the contentious debate over the FCC's authority. Many net-neutrality supporters argue that the only way to enact rules that can survive in court is to reclassify Internet providers as "common carrier" utilities under Title II of the Communications Act. But Republicans and Internet providers argue that utility-style regulation of the Internet would discourage investment and stifle economic growth.