Dems see room for deal on Internet rules

Some key Senate Democrats are giving signals that they may join with Republicans in support of bipartisan legislation to replace federal net neutrality regulations.

Lawmakers have a steep hill to climb to reach any compromise on the issue, which so far has created a sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans. But the prospect that a lawsuit will strike down the rules or that a future Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will undo them might be prompting Democrats to renew talks with GOP lawmakers about a possible bill.

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“The key question for me is we must ask how or is it possible to take what the FCC has done and provide certainty that only legislation signed into law can provide,” said Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonBottom Line Bottom Line Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (Fla.), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee.

Nelson has previously expressed a willingness to talk with Republicans about a “Title X” bill to replace the FCC’s regulations with legislation. 

“I use the term as a way to think beyond the rhetoric that has now engulfed this political argument,” he said during a Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The FCC’s new rules take the aggressive step of reclassifying broadband Internet service to treat it like a public utility, which supporters say is critical to ensuring everyone has equal access to the Internet. Critics, however, fear those rules would have the opposite effect and lead to worse service for everyone.  

In recent months, Republicans in Congress have begun work on a new bill meant to replace the rules with legislation that would enshrine some net neutrality protections but limit the FCC in other ways. The move is a stunning turnaround for Republicans, who previously opposed any government regulation of access to the Internet, but Democrats have yet to join them.

“I believe there should be clear rules for the digital road with clear authority for the FCC to enforce them,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTrump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report: Public impeachment hearings to begin next week MORE (R-S.D.), the head of the Commerce panel.

The draft bill he worked on with House lawmakers is “not perfect,” Thune added, in encouraging others to hop on board.

Nelson responded that he “remain[s] open to a truly bipartisan congressional action, provided that such action fully protects consumers, does not undercut the FCC’s role and leaves the agency with flexibly, forward-looking authority to respond to the changes in this dynamic broadband marketplace."

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) also hinted at his openness to negotiation, though he also appeared relatively pessimistic on Wednesday.

“I’m a little concerned about the litigation risk,” he said. “So I think it is worth exploring, but I also think we ought to be direct with each other about what’s realistic in terms of a legislative strategy or a litigation strategy.”

“I think there is some openness among some of us to enshrine those net neutrality principles in statute, but if we’re unable to reach the common grounds in terms of beginnings of a negotiation, then I’m not necessarily hopeful.”