Internet Speed and Access: Chipping Away at FCC’s Net Neutrality

Internet Speed and Access: Chipping Away at FCC’s Net Neutrality

In June, amidst great controversy, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) finalized its rules to provide an “open Internet” or “net neutrality.”  For anyone concerned with Internet access and speed (who isn’t?),  this is an important policy debate. (See blog:  Net Neutrality: The Big Event on June 12th for a summary of the issues). A lawsuit questioning FCC’s authority to implement its new rules is pending, and Congress continues to push legislation that would limit the FCC’s policy to prevent what it sees as potential government overreach. This week, two more bills that would curtail the FCC’s plans got a boost at a congressional hearing.

Net neutrality refers to a policy that seeks to ensure that Internet providers don’t limit access to Internet services in a way the FCC deems unfair or discriminatory.  For example, the Commission wants to prohibit blocking legal content, throttling (slowing access to certain content) and paid prioritization.  These principles are generally agreed upon, but what is not universally accepted is the authority FCC wants to use to regulate the Internet.  The opponents of FCC’s open Internet policy, say the law FCC is relying on to issue its rules is outdated (written in 1934), was not intended to govern the Internet, and opens doors to all sorts of government meddling in Internet access (like regulating rates) that are troublesome.

In December, opponents of the FCC’s net neutrality rules failed in their attempts to include legislation to thwart the new regulations as part of the year-end budget deal. Now, Congress is back from its holiday break, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee is promoting legislation to limit net neutrality’s reach.  At a hearing last Tuesday, the Committee looked at two bills.  The No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act would prevent the FCC from regulating the rates charged for broadband Internet. While the FCC Chairman says he has no intention of doing so, this bill would remove trust from the equation and make it clear that he or a future chairman may not.

A second bill would reduce the burden of the FCC’s regulations on small businesses.  The Small Business Broadband Deployment Act would permanently exempt small businesses from the FCC’s enhanced disclosure rules. Small businesses are defined as any provider of broadband Internet access service that has fewer than 1,500 employees, or 500,000 subscribers.

Since the President supports the FCC’s net neutrality policy, legislation to alter the rules currently faces an uphill climb to become law.  But, Congress’ unwillingness to relent demonstrates that the decade-long debate on creating an open Internet policy is far from over.

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