Ban on Internet rate regulation heading for House vote

Legislation to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from using its net neutrality rules to regulate the rates that companies charge customers for Internet service appears heading toward a House vote next week. 

The House Rules Committee next Tuesday will set up procedures for voting on the bill on the House floor.

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The bill passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee last month on a party-line vote over objections from Democrats, who said it would end up cutting off broad portions of the FCC's regulatory authority. An amendment to the bill addressed some but not all of their concerns.  

The battle over the FCC's ability to mandate or review the prices that Internet service providers charge for broadband service has been waged since the FCC passed its controversial net neutrality rules last year. 

The bill is the latest in a series of attempts to chip away at the regulations hated by Republicans.  

The rules reclassified Internet service providers as common carriers — regulatory authority that also governs landline telephones and comes with the ability to regulate rates. However, the FCC decided to avoid applying those utility-style provisions to Internet service. 

For the past year, Republicans have been pressing to codify the FCC's commitment in legislation so the agency could not go back on it later. They unsuccessfully attempted to attach a rate regulation rider into last year's spending bill. 

But Democrats and net neutrality advocates say the short bill is more sinister. In a letter to lawmakers last month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the bill might prevent the commission from applying the bulk of its net neutrality rules to prevent Internet service providers from blocking, throttling or creating paid fast lanes for preferred traffic. 

Wheeler also said it would call into question the FCC's general conduct standard, as well as other consumer protection authority and its merger review process. 

To satisfy some of those concerns, Republicans adopted an amendment to make clear the legislation would not restrict a list of FCC authority related to truth in billing, universal service, paid prioritization and interconnection. 

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

Senate Republicans have not advanced similar legislation in the upper chamber.