No common carrier rules, but draft bill leaves room for net neutrality

14 February 2017 by Steve Blum
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Say goodbye.

A republican-backed bill introduced in congress in 2015 might be the best clue we have regarding where broadband regulation is headed at the federal level. Shortly before the Federal Communications Commission redefined broadband as a common carrier service, and then used that authority to establish a code of conduct for Internet service providers – the network neutrality rules – senator John Thune (R – South Dakota) and representative Fred Upton (R – Michigan) circulated draft legislation aimed at short circuiting that action.

The bill didn’t go anywhere and there was no chance that president Obama would have signed it anyway. But it’s resurfaced recently as the Trump administration and the new republican majority at the FCC start peeling back the net neutrality decision. A story by Ali Breland in The Hill says that Thune is willing to move ahead with a compromise that would leave some restrictions in place.

His 2015 draft is a likely blueprint. It would keep the headline elements of net neutrality, such as requirements that Internet service providers “may not block lawful content, applications, or services” and that they “may not throttle lawful traffic by selectively slowing, speeding, degrading, or enhancing Internet traffic based on source, destination, or content” or “engage in paid prioritization”. All “subject to reasonable network management”.

But that’s about it. The bill would have also banned the FCC from treating broadband as a common carrier service or otherwise expanding its authority over the Internet.

Some in congress – in particular, Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee), the chair of a key house subcommittee – would prefer to wait and see what the FCC does. Even Thune’s approach, which he considers to be a compromise that’ll attract bipartisan support, might be too much for other republicans. Whether or not remnants of net neutrality rules remain, it appears increasingly certain that the classification of broadband service as a common carrier utility will not survive much longer.