Hill leaders plot game plan for Web rules

Leaders of the House and Senate panels eyeing new net neutrality legislation are narrowing their focus.

Lawmakers announced plans late on Wednesday to hold separate hearings on new Web rules within hours of each other next week, and unveiled new details about the proposals they are considering.

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Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph Thune'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure MORE (R-S.D.) outlined 11 principles that he said should form the “foundation” of a new bipartisan law, as Congress seeks to preempt the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reclassifying broadband Internet service so that it can be treated like a utility.

The law should ban Internet service providers such as Comcast from blocking people's access to any particular website, slowing their data or creating “fast lanes” on the Internet, Thune said. He also called for the prohibitions to apply to Internet service delivered both through a landline and wirelessly.

“The FCC currently has limited options to write rules that escape the uncertainty of litigation while protecting innovation,” Thune said in a statement. “Clear statutory authority from Congress is necessary to update FCC authority for the Internet Age, escape court challenges, and avoid regulatory overreach from outdated laws.”

Thune’s panel will hear from nongovernmental witnesses at a hearing the afternoon of next Wednesday, Jan. 21.

Earlier that day, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications will hold a hearing of its own to explore the possibility for a new law. Witnesses have yet to be announced.

Ahead of the FCC’s expected move next month to reclassify Internet service so that it can be regulated like phone service under Title II of the Communications Act, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have begun moves to enshrine in law certain principles for regulating Web service, while also preventing the agency from taking that controversial step. 

One of Thune’s 11 principles specifically clarifies that broadband Internet is an “information service,” and cannot be regulated under Title II of the law.

Other principles would allow for “reasonable network management” and some types of specialized service, would protect consumer choice and would require transparency.