Waxman may move without full consensus on net-neutrality bill

Full consensus may not be the end game of an effort by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.) as he crafts a bill on net neutrality, according to House aides involved in the process. 

Waxman may move forward with a bill that does not get full agreement from all sides in the debate but that seems to have enough support to pass the House, three aides said. 

As Congressional staffers weigh input from public interest groups and cable, phone, and Internet companies, their consideration has in part turned to whether moving without the approval of certain major stakeholders would sink the bill, the aides said. 

Waxman “is a master legislator. He prevents the perfect from becoming the enemy of the good,” one aide said. “That’s not always easy — when you’re talking to everyone — for everyone to swallow.”

Two of the aides said they do not anticipate support from public interest groups no matter how the draft is written. 

Further, the two aides said they believe Waxman might proceed in spite of an even wider swath of dissent — possibly even without the sign-off of Internet companies who have been heavily involved in the talks.

Edge providers consulted by Congressional staffers have included Google, Skype, and the range of members in the Open Internet Coalition, among others. 

Consensus has been the goal and the committee talking point pegged to the chairman’s talks, but reports this week on the negotiations have said that stakeholders continue to disagree on issues that have driven the net-neutrality debate for years, including the appropriate scope of FCC authority. 

Paul Glenchur, an analyst with Potomac Research Group, said it may be possible for a bill to succeed without full support.

“If you have the right group of them, I don’t think you have to reach everyone,” he said.

The fate of such a bill could depend in part on how much the dissenters push back.

“The question becomes how strongly the key edge companies work against it,” he said. “They might not be on board, but how hard do they fight it?”

Waxman originally hoped to bring a net-neutrality bill to the floor before the recess, according to House staffers. That is looking nearly impossible as House lawmakers prepare to adjourn. 

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski expressed support for the Congressional process on Thursday.

“I admire and I appreciate the effort and I hope it succeeds,” he said.

He also said he is “pleased Chairman Waxman and the other members involved are making a real effort to make progress on these issue.”

The Congressional process is an attempt to move past some Internet traffic issues that have divided broadband providers and Internet companies for years. 

A court decision in April raised questions about the agency’s authority to enforce rules preventing broadband providers from favoring certain traffic on their networks. 

Stakeholders who have long worked against strict net-neutrality rules, including AT&T, Verizon, and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, have been persuaded to discuss some form of federal regulation after the FCC threatened to place their broadband businesses under the strictures that cover telephone service, a possibility they completely oppose.

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