Net neutrality budget amendment modified to win Dem support

A bipartisan pair of senators is planning to introduce a nonbinding amendment on net neutrality during Thursday’s “vote-a-rama” on the budget.

The brief amendment, originally written by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), was modified on Thursday in order to attract the support of his committee’s ranking member, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

The measure originally called for a deficit-neutral reserve fund “to preserve and protect the open Internet in a manner that provides the Federal Communications Commission with targeted and robust enforcement mechanisms… protects against regulatory overreach and does not rely on public utility regulations.”

But the new version, obtained by The Hill on Thursday afternoon, abandons any mention of either the FCC or “public utility regulations.”

Instead, it would create the fund “to preserve and protect the open Internet in a manner that provides clear and certain rules…” The new version of the amendment also includes “consumer protection, competition, innovation” and “investment” as issues that the rules should not jeopardize.

Like all other amendments during Thursday’s marathon voting session, the measure is purely symbolic, nonbinding and will have no force of law. However, it offers a chance for lawmakers to register where they stand on the concept of net neutrality, which is the notion that federal rules should prevent Internet service providers such as Comcast or Verizon from interfering with people’s access to the Web.

Thune’s willingness to amend the measure in order to win over Democratic support could be a welcome sign for people looking for net neutrality legislation to replace the FCC’s tough new rules, either out of fear that they are too broad or that they could be struck down by a court.  

Thune and his colleagues in the House has spent months working on an effort to write a net neutrality law that would replace the agency’s regulations. The bill would likely enshrine some protects for Web users — such as prohibiting Web providers from blocking or slowing access to particular sites — but would also limit the agency from applying the utility-style rules that it has turned to.

So far, Democrats have yet to hop on board, though some have expressed an openness to discussions.

The new amendment from Thune and Nelson would be the first bipartisan effort on net neutrality since the FCC issued its regulations in February.

Despite the fact that it won’t affect actual law, the move is a sign that the partisan divide over the issue may be bridged.  

— Updated at 1:32 p.m.

Tags John Thune Net neutrality Network neutrality
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