No deal on legislation banning Internet rate regulation

No compromise was in sight Tuesday on a GOP-backed bill meant to bar the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from regulating the rates that Internet providers charge for service.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote over continued objections from Democrats, who argue the legislation is overly broad and could chip away at the FCC’s net neutrality rules and broader consumer protection authority. 

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Republicans approved an amendment meant to address some of those concerns. Democrats unsuccessfully called to postpone the vote so the amendments could be vetted and negotiations could continue.  

“On some of these issues we just have a disagreement. This bill was filed a year ago,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), noting that it has gone through a number of hearings. 

The two-page bill says simply that the FCC “may not regulate the rates charged” for Internet service. Republicans frame it as a straightforward measure to codify a promise made by the FCC when it reclassified Internet service providers as common carriers.  

“I don’t care if it is one sentence or one page or 100 pages,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said. “It says what it says, and it falls short.”

Republicans say the bill would prevent rate regulation “directly through tariffing or indirectly through enforcement action.” Walden brought up T-Mobile’s new Binge On video offering as a program he wanted to protect from the FCC with the bill. 

When the FCC passed controversial net neutrality rules last year, it promised to avoid some of the utility-style regulations that came along with it. That included a promise to avoid regulating the prices that Internet providers — like Comcast or Verizon — charge customers for monthly service. 

Democrats agree with that sentiment. But they say the GOP-backed bill is overly broad and could harm things the FCC’s ability to regulate fraudulent billing practices, zero-rating, interconnection, merger reviews and its broader general conduct standard included in net neutrality rules.  

Republicans approved an amendment that more thoroughly defines rate regulation and explicitly addresses a handful of those Democrat issues. 

“Maybe it addresses a few things, but it doesn’t address most of it,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the lead Democrat on the committee.  

Republicans have been pushing the ban on Internet rate regulation since the FCC passed its net neutrality rules last year, which give the agency more authority to ensure companies treat all Web traffic equally and are not prioritizing the traffic of some sites over others. 

Dozens of advocacy groups and tech companies lobbied last year to keep the provision out of a spending bill. While the stand-alone legislation has been introduced in the Senate as well, no action has been taken in the upper chamber. The House bill could still go through a number of changes before reaching the House floor.