GOP lawmakers offer net neutrality bill

House and Senate Republicans on Friday released a draft version of their legislation on open Internet rules.

The bill is meant to enforce many of the net neutrality rules that Democrats and other advocates have recommended, while also preventing the Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband Internet similar to a public utility.

The FCC is expected to vote on proposed rules next month that would reclassify broadband under Title II of the Communications Act, similar to traditional telephones. But Internet service providers — like Verizon and Comcast — and Republicans have opposed the move, saying that would stifle innovation and lead to higher fees on consumers. 

The legislation is meant to offer a path forward without reclassification. But FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled his intent to go ahead with a vote next month. One Democrat described the proposal as a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

"By turning the FCC away from a heavy-handed and messy approach to regulating the Internet, this draft protects both consumers who rely on Internet services and innovators who create jobs," Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Thune­ObamaCare fix hinges on Medicaid clash in Senate A guide to the committees: Senate Verizon, Yahoo slash merger deal by 0M over data breaches MORE (R-S.D.) said in a statement. 

The House and Senate Commerce committees will hold back-to-back hearings on the issue next week. 

"I look forward to continuing discussions about an alternative to controversial FCC action with my ranking member Sen. Bill NelsonBill NelsonA guide to the committees: Senate Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick CMS nominee breezes through confirmation hearing MORE [D-Fla] and other colleagues on both sides of the aisle at our hearing on Wednesday," he added. 

A GOP aide on the Senate Commerce Committee said the FCC would be "prudent to postpone" regulatory action on updated rules while Congress works through its legislation, noting it would be unfortunate for the commission to pass rules that could potentially be overridden by future legislation. 

The FCC confirmed it will go ahead with its rulemaking.

“Chairman Wheeler shares the goals of protecting and preserving an Open Internet," FCC spokeswoman Shannon Gilson said. "Next month, the Commission will consider strong rules to protect consumers, innovation and competition online. We will continue to engage with Congress as we move forward.”

The bill would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing traffic to any website. It would also ban service providers and websites from negotiating deals for faster service — which could create two tiers of Internet traffic, a regular lane and a “fast lane” for those willing to pay.

The bill would also explicitly define broadband Internet as an "information service." Advocates for stronger rules have called to reclassify the Internet as a "telecommunications service" to enforce the rules — which critics call outdated.  

"By clearly outlining the appropriate rules of the road, and leaving twentieth century utility regulation behind, we can be sure that innovators continue full throttle in bringing remarkable new technologies to all Americans," House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said. 

The proposal also forbids the FCC or states from solely relying on section 706 of the Telecommunications Act for authority over telecommunications services. 

When an appeals court struck down the commission's previous open Internet rules last year, it noted this section granted the FCC authority to craft net neutrality rules. Wheeler initially relied on this authority for new rules and Internet service providers have offered it as an alternative to reclassification. 

But the Commerce Committee aide said the commission would be better served if Congress outlined specific authority with the new language.  

Reports have indicated this provision could also remove the FCC's authority to pre-empt state laws that bar the expansion of municipal broadband networks. President Obama called for the FCC to take action on the issue. And the commission announced it would take up two petitions from cities next month.

The aide said it is still unclear what effect it would have on municipal broadband and said that could be explored in the hearings. 

The White House is reviewing the text of the GOP bill, but believes that legislative action on the matter is "unnecessary," according to one official.

"We remain open to working with Republicans who share the President’s goals on this issue, but we will not support efforts that would strip the FCC of its existing authorities to promote competition, innovation, and investment," the official said.

“Democrats and Republicans both agree on the need for net neutrality protections, but this Republican proposal should be called the Big Broadband Baron Act," Sen Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyDems rip Trump administration for revoking Obama's transgender directive A guide to the committees: Senate GOP sets sights on internet privacy rules MORE said (D-Mass.). "It is a legislative wolf in sheep’s clothing, offering select few safeguards while undermining basic consumer, privacy and accessibility protections."

Four Senate Democrats issued a joint statement saying the legislation would "dramatically undermine" the FCC's authority. But they added they "stand willing" to work with Republicans on legislation and acknowledged the party's pivot on the issue. 

The joint statement came from Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyDem senator asks for 'top to bottom' review of Syria policy A guide to the committees: Senate Verizon angling to lower price of Yahoo purchase: report MORE (Vt.), Ron WydenRon WydenDems rip Trump administration for revoking Obama's transgender directive IPAB’s Medicare cuts will threaten seniors’ access to care A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (Ore.), Al FrankenAl FrankenKentucky Dem lawmaker questions Trump's mental health Americans should get used to pop culture blending with politics A guide to the committees: Senate MORE (Minn.) and Cory Booker (N.J.). 

This post was last updated at 6:59 p.m. 

Net Neutrality legislation