Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has introduced a bill in response to the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules, but supporters of net neutrality aren’t happy with it. The Open Internet Preservation Act would prevent blocking or degrading the quality of legal web traffic, but would also ban the FCC from making any rules that go beyond those two requirements. It would override any state net neutrality laws, like those recently proposed for California and Washington. And it firmly defines broadband as an “information service,” which would mean it couldn’t be regulated more strictly as a Title II service, as it was under the newly repealed Open Internet Order.
Blackburn, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, says the bill is supposed to provide “light-touch regulation so companies can invest and innovate.” It would theoretically settle the long-running debate over net neutrality regulation, but it would allow some practices that net neutrality advocates consider unacceptable — like paid prioritization, where service providers speed up favored web traffic. “Blackburn’s bill would explicitly allow internet providers to demand new fees from small businesses and Internet users, carving up the web into fast lanes and slow lanes,” says Evan Greer, campaigns director of Fight for the Future.
No blocking. No throttling. The Open Internet Preservation Act will ensure the internet is a free and open space. This legislation is simple, it provides light-touch regulation so companies can invest and innovate, and make sure our internet is up to 21st century standards.
— Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) December 19, 2017
The Internet Association, a coalition that includes Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and other companies, opposed the bill as well. “The proposal circulated today does not meet the criteria for basic net neutrality protections,” it said in a statement, although it commended Blackburn for “moving the conversation forward.” The statement specifically condemns paid prioritization, and says that “real net neutrality legislation should be bipartisan and have input from other stakeholders, including the user community, public interest groups, and industry.” US telecom groups and carriers have not comprehensively weighed in on this bill, but they’ve previously supported limited “open internet” legislation.
While it shares a name with a 2014 Democratic bill, the new Open Internet Preservation Act is modeled on a draft that Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) circulated in 2015, according to pro-repeal think tank TechFreedom. In a recent tweet, Blackburn made clear her disdain for earlier net neutrality rules, saying the term was “nothing more than a code word for government takeover of the internet.”
Meanwhile, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says he will force a vote to nullify the FCC’s latest decision with a Congressional Resolution of Disapproval. But that’s vulnerable to a veto by President Trump — a problem that this toothless bill, if it passes, likely wouldn’t have.