Key Dem pushes ‘combination’ rules to ban online ‘fast lanes’

The top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee is pushing the Federal Communications Commission to adopt a “combination” approach for new rules on Internet service companies.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told the FCC on Friday that the agency should reclassify broadband Internet service to draw from the same legal authority it uses for traditional telephone service and also use a separate provision that allows the agency to speed up the deployment of broadband.

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A “combination” of those two legal powers “can establish a truly robust framework for open Internet protections that will withstand judicial scrutiny,” he wrote in a letter to the agency.

The FCC’s draft regulations on net neutrality — the notion that Internet service providers like Comcast or Cox should be prevented from blocking or slowing service to a particular website — relied solely on the provision allowing the agency to speed up broadband deployment. The proposal would allow companies to cut deals to speed up access to particular websites, however, which critics warned would lead to “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” online.   

Cable companies and Republicans have warned the agency against reclassifying broadband Internet as a “telecommunications service,” however, which they say would lead to outdated utility-style rules that would hurt everyone. They have hinted at a lawsuit if the FCC decided to go that route.

Combining both, however, “would provide the bright-line protections that advocates of Internet openness are seeking," Waxman wrote, without hurting Internet providers.

It would allow the FCC to ban Internet service providers from blocking or slowing service while avoiding some of the most controversial aspects of the more aggressive move, he asserted.

“I hope you will give this hybrid proposal serious consideration,” Waxman wrote.

The letter was met with opposition from the cable and broadband industry, however. 

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association called his attempts to reclassify broadband “unnecessary” to protect the Internet and said it would “result in years of uncertainty and legal tussles.”

USTelecom, which represents Internet providers, said that the idea “remains a non-starter for our industry.” 

Waxman is not the only one who has proposed that the FCC use some blend of both legal powers.

Rep Anna Eshoo (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on technology, has proposed the FCC draw just some of the legal powers that come from classifying broadband Internet as a “telecommunications service," without relying entirely on that legal authority. 

Center for Democracy and Technology President Nuala O’Connor testified in favor of a similar plan in the Senate in September. 

 

— Updated with additional information at 3:24 p.m.