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Draft Net Neutrality Bill Would Limit FCC Power

Jeff Baumgartner
9/28/2010

A proposed network neutrality bill from House Democrats made the rounds Monday, setting forth a draft "legislative framework" that would limit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's power and hit wired broadband services with nondiscrimination parameters, but take a lighter touch with wireless broadband.

The three-page draft, obtained by Light Reading Cable, would essentially block the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a full-blown Title II telecommunications service. The drafted framework would instead allow the FCC to address network neutrality issues on a case-by-case basis, and have the authority to hit broadband ISPs with a maximum penalty of $2 million for violations. (See Cable Tees Off on FCC's 'Third Way' Proposal.)

The FCC, as part of its pursuit of codified network neutrality rules, has been championing a "Third Way" proposal that would not have the teeth of Title II -- which is sometimes called the "Nuclear option" -- but would instead apply to only the "transmission component" of broadband services, including elements such as denial of service and protection of privacy, and not enforce some of the other heavier-handed Title II (telecommunications) provisions. Today, broadband is considered a Title I (information) service. (See FCC Declares War on Broadband , FCC Looks to Reclaim Its Broadband Mojo , and Third Way or Third Rail?)

House Energy and Commerce chairman Henry Waxman is trying to push the bill through the lower chamber before recess, and advance it through the Senate after the November elections, according to The Tech Daily Dose.

According to the draft bill, which would give the FCC until the end of the year to file a report on whether it would need more authority to implement the National Broadband Plan, wired broadband providers would not be allowed to:



  • Block lawful content, applications, or services, or prohibit the use of non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management

  • Unjustly or unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful traffic over a consumer's wireline broadband Internet access service


Those ISPs would also be on the hook to "disclose accurate and relevant information in plain language regarding the price, performance, and network management practices of its wireline broadband Internet access services..."

Wireless broadband operators, meanwhile, would not be subject to the same discrimination parameters as wired broadband services. They would be barred from blocking access to lawful Internet Websites or apps that compete with the provider's voice or video communications services, but the language in the draft offers a bit more wiggle room on apps that don't compete directly with those offered by the wireless carrier.

The draft also takes a stab at defining "reasonable network management," allowed under the wired and wireless broadband provisions. The term:


...includes appropriate and tailored practices to reduce or mitigate the effects of congestion on a broadband Internet access provider’s network; to ensure network security or integrity; to address traffic that is harmful to or unwanted by users, including premise operators, or to the provider’s network, or the Internet; to meet the needs of public safety; and to provide services or capabilities to effectuate a consumer’s choices, including parental controls or security capabilities.


— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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