Over the past several weeks, Subcommittee Chairman Boucher and I have sought to reach bipartisan agreement on legislation that would protect and promote an open Internet.
Our efforts were supported by groups that have long been at odds on this issue: phone and cable companies, technology companies, and consumer and open-internet groups.
Our proposal was designed to be an interim measure to protect net neutrality while Congress considers a permanent solution. It contained four key consumer protections that would:
· Restore the FCC’s authority to prevent blocking of Internet content, applications, and services, which was struck down by the court in the Comcast decision;
· Prevent phone and cable companies from unjustly or unreasonably discriminating against any lawful Internet traffic;
· Prohibit wireless broadband providers from blocking websites, as well as applications that compete with voice or video conferencing, while preserving the FCC’s authority to adopt additional safeguards under its existing authorities; and
· Direct the FCC to issue transparency regulations so consumers know the price, performance, and network management practices of their broadband providers.
Under our proposal, the FCC could begin enforcing these open Internet rules immediately – with maximum fines increased from $75,000 to $2,000,000 for violations.
And our approach would provide the phone and cable companies with protection from the threat of reclassification for two years.
Under this proposal, both sides would emerge as winners. Consumers would win protections that preserve the openness of the Internet, while the Internet service providers would receive relief from their fears of reclassification.
This legislative initiative was predicated on going forward only if we had full bipartisan support in our Committee. We included the Republican staff in our deliberations and made clear that we were prepared to introduce our compromise legislation if we received the backing of Ranking Member Barton and Ranking Member Stearns.
With great regret, I must report that Ranking Member Barton has informed me that support for this legislation will not be forthcoming at this time.
This development is a loss for consumers and a gain only for the extremes. We need to break the deadlock on net neutrality so that we can focus on building the most open and robust Internet possible.
I do not close the door on moving legislation this Congress. Cooler heads may prevail after the elections. But I want my position to be clear: my goal is the best outcome for consumers. If our efforts to find bipartisan consensus fail, the FCC should move forward under Title II. The bottom line is that we must protect the open Internet. If Congress can’t act, the FCC must.
I want to thank all those with whom we worked intensively over the past month. I particularly want to single out the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Public Knowledge, and the Center for Democracy and Technology for their steadfast advocacy on behalf of consumers and AT&T, Verizon, and the National Cable Television Association for their constructive engagement.