U.S. lawmakers want to trim FCC's broadband oversight role

6 June 2016 by Steve Blum
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Two versions of a ban on rate regulation for broadband service are moving through the U.S. congress, but there’s more to it than preventing the Federal Communications Commission from overseeing monthly subscription prices.

House resolution 2666 was passed by the house of representatives and is now awaiting action by the U.S. senate. As currently written, it says the FCC “may not regulate the rates charged for broadband Internet access service”. That simple and very broad statement covers more than just monthly fees. It would also keep the FCC from regulating service terms, like data caps, and, depending on who you talk to, could go as far as gutting the decision to classify broadband as a common carrier service. The bill is not likely to make it into law, though, since the senate seems less enthusiastic about it than the house, and the white house has said it’ll be vetoed if gets that far.

One way to head off a presidential veto is to bundle the language into a bill that’s too important to block. That’s the second path that house republicans are taking, putting similar language into a draft of the upcoming annual budget bill. Besides telling the FCC that it can’t regulate prices or service terms, including specifically “data caps and allowances”, the budget bill language also prevents the FCC from enforcing its common carrier/network neutrality rules until all appeals are exhausted, a process which could take years. The FCC would also be required to publish draft decisions at least three weeks before a vote. The way things work now, details of decisions remain secret until after the FCC votes, sometimes weeks after. Changing that practice, at least, would be good for everyone.