Republicans advance ban on Internet rate regulation

Hill file photo

Republicans on Thursday advanced a bill meant to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from regulating the rates charged for Internet service. 

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications passed the bill over objections from Democrats, who said it could have overly broad implications because “rate regulation” is not defined. 

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“When you are defining ‘no’ against something [and] we don’t know what that something is, that something could be anything. It is starting to sound like a Dr. Seuss book,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said.

The bill is a response to last year's controversial FCC net neutrality rules, which reclassified Internet service providers as common carriers in order to prevent them from favoring certain traffic. 

Republicans, who oppose the FCC’s rules, tried and failed to attach similar language on rate regulation to the government funding bill passed in December. Thursday’s measure would still have to pass the full committee before coming to the floor.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said the commission has no interest in regulating or setting the monthly rates that companies charge for Internet service. He said that kind of regulation was avoided in the rules through a process known as forbearance. 

Republicans say they simply want to codify that promise. 

But net neutrality advocates caution the single-paragraph bill is overly broad and likely a guise to blunt other consumer protections at the FCC. Republicans on Thursday said the bill would not prevent the FCC from enforcing truthful billing practices. 

The subcommittee rejected two Democratic amendments aimed at limiting the reach of the bill. 

Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) and other Republicans said negotiators seemed close to reaching an agreement before Democrats walked away at the last minute. 

“I don’t know what the heck went wrong,” Walden said. 

Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), however, said she was never offered a proposal that had a clear definition of rate regulation. 

The subcommittee approved two other bills Thursday. One would exempt small businesses from some of the transparency requirements in the net neutrality rules. The bill would also expand the definition of a small business. The committee also approved a bill related to amateur radio.