By Elizabeth Holland
Congress will hold back-to-back hearings on net neutrality today in the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Technology and Communications and the Senate Commerce Committee, giving lawmakers an opportunity to weigh in weeks before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to unveil its new rules and kicking off what will likely be a contentious partisan debate.
Aiming to head off the impending FCC vote, Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Representative Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairmen of the Senate and House Commerce Committees respectively, circulated draft legislation last week to restrict the agency’s authority on net neutrality. The proposed bill would prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or throttling content, or from prioritizing web traffic from those sites that pay for faster access to the consumer, and would apply to both wired and wireless providers. However, the bill would also prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, a regulatory move designed to give the agency more solid legal footing on which to issue strong net neutrality rules as President Obama (and AALL) have urged. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has hinted that he will propose Title II reclassification to the commission for it Feb. 26 vote on new rules.
While the proposal to limit the FCC’s authority to enforce net neutrality has garnered criticism from net neutrality advocates and congressional Democrats, the legislation suggests a shift for congressional Republicans, who had previously expressed doubts about the need for net neutrality rules at all. Meanwhile, President Obama renewed his call for strong net neutrality rules during his State of the Union address last night. In this remarks, the President pledged “protect a free and open Internet” but did not directly address his support for open Internet rules under Title II reclassification.
While AALL welcomes Congressional action to protect net neutrality, we are concerned the current legislative proposal fails to adequately protect the principles of the open Internet in a number of ways. Our friends at Public Knowledge have an excellent write up of the bill’s shortcomings. The proposed legislation also raises concerns for law libraries because of a copyright provision included in section 13(c)(2), which states “nothing in this section…prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity.” We maintain our belief that the FCC should establish a firm foundation for net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband Internet access as a Title II telecommunications service and oppose legislative efforts to prevent such an authority.