By a partisan vote of 241-173, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted legislation last Friday prohibiting FCC regulation of broadband Internet access rates. The law would thus limit the effects of the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order, which classified broadband as a Title II telecommunications service. Introduced by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act (H.R. 2666) now moves to the Senate for potential passage. That would put the measure on the desk of President Obama, who has threatened a veto.
H.R. 2666 would essentially codify assurances by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that the FCC would use its forbearance authority to refrain from imposing on fixed and wireless ISPs pricing and other restrictions that apply to Title II common carriers. Democrats claim, however, that the measure will diminish FCC authority to protect consumers by barring “after the fact” regulation of broadband rates through enforcement or other proceedings. An amendment, offered by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA), which would have preserved the FCC’s jurisdiction to act “in the public interest, convenience and necessity” with respect to broadband rates was defeated by a vote of 173-231. Commenting on that amendment, House Communications & Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) remarked during floor debate that the term “public interest, convenience and necessity” is “so broad you can drive a rate regulation truck back through it.” However, as ranking subcommittee member Anna Eshoo maintained that the bill “in its broadness is an attack on consumers,” ranking House Energy & Commerce Committee member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) spoke for Democratic opponents in proclaiming: “we cannot support a bill that prevents the [FCC] from acting in the interest of the public.”
Walden denied that the goal of the bill is to “gut” the FCC’s Open Internet rules, as FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai joined industry executives in applauding the House vote. Characterizing H.R. 2666 as “common sense legislation,” Pai told reporters that the measure merely “codifies what President Obama told the FCC to do in 2014 and what Chairman Wheeler promised to do in 2015.” As Jot Carpenter, the vice president of government affairs for wireless association CTIA, observed “there is broad agreement that 20th century-style regulation is unnecessary in the highly competitive market for wireless broadband,” American Cable Association President Matthew Polka voiced hope that “the Senate will soon pass this bill, and the White House will likewise see the wisdom in signing it into law.”