Members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee have approved the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act (H.R. 2666), which would limit the effects of the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet order by barring FCC regulation of broadband Internet access services (BIAS) rates “without regard to any other provision of law.” Like a similar action undertaken last month by the House Communications & Technology Subcommittee, Tuesday’s 29-19 vote was marked by partisan disagreement. Introduced by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (RIL), H.R. 2666 would codify assurances by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that the FCC—in classifying BIAS as a Title II telecommunications service—would use its forbearance authority to refrain from imposing on fixed and wireless ISPs pricing and other restrictions that apply to wireline common carrier phone networks. Although both political parties agree that the FCC should not regulate broadband access rates, Democrats believe the H.R. 2666 is too broad and would impact the FCC’s ability to protect consumers against unfair billing practices. Republicans, meanwhile, believe passage of H.R. 2666 is needed to prevent future FCC chairmen from backtracking on Wheeler’s forbearance pledge.
In hopes of assuaging some of the Democrats’ concerns, committee members approved an amendment, offered by House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), specifying that the FCC can continue to enforce truth-in-billing requirements and the Open Internet order’s ban on paid prioritization. Democrats on the panel, however, were not satisfied. Countering Republican claims that the bill does not target “bright line” FCC rules against paid prioritization, throttling, and the blockage of lawful web content, ranking committee member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) quoted a letter from Wheeler voicing concern that the measure “would introduce significant uncertainty into the Commission’s ability” to enforce these rules. Notwithstanding Tuesday’s vote, House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) acknowledged that further negotiations could take place before the bill moves to the House floor.