GOP to draft bill on Internet rules

Republicans plan to unveil a proposal in the coming days that would make it unnecessary for the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband Internet as a public utility. 

They say they will “pursue a public process” to write and pass legislation that would prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing service to any website, while also outlawing companies from negotiating deals for faster service. 

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The FCC has been pursuing updated net neutrality rules meant to do just that. But Republicans and service providers have cautioned that reclassification is the wrong approach. 

“As a legislative body, Congress has far more flexibility than the commission to narrowly tailor rules appropriate for today’s digital ecosystem,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Pompeo condemns Iran for 'act of war' while Trump moves with caution Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' MORE (R-S.D.) and his House counterpart Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonEnergy efficiency cannot be a partisan issue for Washington Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea The Hill's Morning Report - Can Trump save GOP in North Carolina special election? MORE (R-Mich.) wrote in an op-ed in Reuters. 

The two did not get into the specifics of the proposal. They said they are working with members of the Democratic Party on it and were hopeful it could get bipartisan support. 

“We have made this an early priority of this Congress, demonstrating we can come together on a bipartisan basis to protect the vitality of the Internet — now so indispensable to our economy and way of life,” they wrote. 

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, has been in discussions with Republicans on a path forward. He said "updated rules and regulations" are necessary.  

"I look forward to working with them to ensure any such changes keep the Internet free and open, and don't stifle innovation.  Because I believe consumer protection should come first, the FCC must have flexible enforcement authority," he said. 

The announcement comes weeks before the FCC is slated to unveil new rules to enforce open Internet rules. Chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled the proposal will seek to reclassify the Internet under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. 

President Obama and other advocates have called for the move, saying it is the only way to ban Internet “fast lanes.”

But Republicans and service providers have said the authority is outdated and would stifle innovation and raise taxes on consumers. 

“One near-certainty is that this approach will perpetuate years of litigation and even more uncertainty for consumers and job creators,” Thune and Upton wrote.

— updated at 4:35 p.m.