Net Neutrality Bill Is DOA
The net neutrality ball is back in the FCC's court, and Title II appears to be on the table again after House Energy and Commerce chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) confirmed Wednesday that he was pulling the plug on his bill. Waxman acted after it became clear he didn't have the support from Republicans -- including Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) and Joe Barton (R-TX) -- that he would need to get it pushed through.
"This legislative initiative was predicated on going forward only if we had full bipartisan support in our Committee," Waxman said in a statement. "We included the Republican staff in our deliberations and made clear that we were prepared to introduce our compromise legislation if we received the backing of Ranking Member Barton and Ranking Member Stearns."
Barton, he added, "has informed me that support for this legislation will not be forthcoming at this time."
Under Waxman's net neutrality proposal, which closely mirrored a proposal presented by Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) in August, the "legislative framework" would impose wired broadband services with nondiscrimination policies, but take a lighter touch with wireless broadband. ISPs that violated the rules would be subject to fees starting at $75,000 and maxing out at $2 million. (See Verizon & Google Define an 'Open Internet'.)
As drafted, the bill would prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband for two years. Broadband is currently classified as a Title I (information) service. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is proposing a "Third Way" classification that would not enforce the tougher components of a Title II label as the agency pursues its National Broadband Plan. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has already argued that the proposal would be subject to a swift court reversal. (See FCC Declares War on Broadband and Third Way or Third Rail?)
Waxman argued that his proposal would help restore the FCC's authority on the Internet in the wake of a court decision that reversed an earlier Commission order against Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) over the operator's treatment of peer-to-peer traffic. (See FCC Looks to Reclaim Its Broadband Mojo and Net Neutrality Ruling: FCC Loses, Comcast Wins.)
Waxman urged lawmakers to "break the deadlock on net neutrality," hopeful that "cooler heads may prevail after the elections."
If Republicans and Democrats fail to find common ground on the issue, "the FCC should move forward under Title II," he added. "The bottom line is that we must protect the open Internet. If Congress can't act, the FCC must."
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable