Net neutrality back in play in U.S. congress as democrats offer new bill

7 March 2019 by Steve Blum
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Congressional democrats are taking another run at overturning the Federal Communication Commission’s 2017 decision to scrap network neutrality rules. Yesterday, amid much fanfare, a draft of a bill was released that would nullify the 2017 decision by the FCC’s republican majority and reinstate the 2015 decision by the then democratic majority to regulate broadband as a common carrier service. Along with that decision came bright line rules: no blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation of subscriber traffic by Internet service providers.

Technically it’s two identical bills, one each for the senate and the house of representatives. But as a practical matter it’s one piece of legislation.

Although the language is necessarily different, the bill would do pretty much the same thing as last year’s attempt to block the FCC’s net neutrality repeal via the Congressional Review Act. Enough republican senators jumped ship to approve the measure, but house republicans did not follow suit and it died.

This latest bill goes one step further. It forbids the FCC from trying again, saying the 2017 repeal “may not be reissued in substantially the same form”.

Reaction was predictably split on partisan lines. For example, republican FCC chair Ajit Pai’s office released a statement condemning the new bill, while democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel praised it.

There seems to be no rush to get the bill in motion, though. House speaker Nancy Pelosi said it would be “a matter of weeks” before any action is taken. Since democrats control the house of representatives, the bill is likely to pass there first, assuming telecoms lobbyists don’t succeed in buying off federal lawmakers, as they were nearly able to do last year in California.

Republicans control the senate, by a bigger margin than they did last year, so there’s no guarantee that a 51 vote majority can be found there, let alone the 60 votes needed to stop the inevitable filibuster.