Finding a Path for Bipartisan Net Neutrality Legislation

Over the last several weeks, Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have unveiled different approaches to promote “net neutrality.”  The different approaches illustrate where there is agreement – and where there is not – for potentially crafting a bipartisan legislative solution. Finding compromise on this issue is a long-sought goal, and it is the only way to ensure a bill is signed into law that provides the internet ecosystem with certainty once and for all.

One ray of light is that Democrats and Republicans alike agree on basic consumer protection principles. For example, Republicans have introduced bills that would prohibit service providers from blocking or throttling content and would mandate transparency about network management practices. Enacting these protections into law – protections that could not be undone by a future FCC – would be an important bipartisan step forward.

However, the partisan divide remains as to what underlying regulatory structure best achieves a free and open internet while at the same time encouraging investment in America’s broadband networks. The latest Democratic proposal, the “Save the Internet Act,” would impose utility-style Title II regulation on the internet. That type of regulation should have no role today when the U.S. government is making the business case for deploying next-generation wireline and wireless broadband infrastructure including efforts to lead the world in 5G. Our view is that this proposal would take us in the wrong direction.

Looking back on how this issue has evolved, it’s important to understand that the rules of the road were dramatically changed in 2015 when the FCC for the first time ever imposed Title II common carrier regulation on broadband internet access.

Prior to that time, the FCC under both Republican and Democratic administrations had successfully created a regulatory environment that balanced the need for an open internet while allowing for continued network investment and innovation. Unfortunately, the 2015 rule imposed outdated Title II utility-style regulation on broadband providers. Although the 2015 rule exempted broadband from some aspects of traditional telephony regulation, such regulation could potentially be expanded by a future FCC in ways that would stifle competition and innovation and drive up rates.

Rather than simply returning to this prescriptive Title II approach, members of Congress should work together to enact legislation that moves beyond old labels and classifications to address this issue properly once and for all. This fight has never been about whether we should have an open internet. All parties agree on that point.

TIA has long supported principles that ISPs not block or throttle content, along with providing customers with transparency. We support enabling the free flow of information and commerce that drives our economy. We also support policies that encourage an innovation-friendly environment for entrepreneurs and engineers and that generate high-paying jobs.

The right way to protect the growth of our nation’s broadband infrastructure is for all members of Congress, regardless of party, to finally come together and pass bipartisan legislation that protects consumers and permanently removes the regulatory uncertainty this debate has caused customers, providers and manufacturers for years.

About Cinnamon Rogers

Cinnamon Rogers is senior vice president of government affairs at the Telecommunications Industry Association.