House votes to bring back Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ rules

April 10, 2019

The House voted Wednesday to restore Obama-era internet rules that would require service providers to treat content equally, with Democrats saying the legislation followed up on a key campaign promise.

Dubbed “net neutrality,” the policy would prevent service providers from throttling a user’s connection speed based on the activity the user is engaged in.

Such a policy was put in place by the Federal Communications Commission during the Obama administration, then revoked under the Trump administration. Democrats’ bill would restore the 2015 rules.

“Net neutrality ensures that any business, no matter how small, gets the same internet at the same speeds as giant corporate interests. That’s only fair,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pauline said in defending the bill on the House floor.

The bill passed on a 232-190 vote. Only one Republican joined Democrats in support.

Liberal activists have pleaded for the rules, saying they feared the mischief major corporations could play in shaping what the public sees online. That argument has overwhelming support in the public, too, with polls showing net neutrality popular with both Democrats and Republicans.

Opponents, though, argue that government intervention could stifle competition and innovation in the delivery of online services.

“Please show me what’s so broken about the internet that the federal government needs to come in and save it,” Minority Whip Steve Scalise said. “The great thing about the internet today is there are so many different people competing for your business, and they’re spending billions of dollars to do it.”

Still, Republicans did have their own plan.

Rep. Greg Walden said the GOP was ready to embrace a policy that prohibited site-blocking, speed-throttling or allowing entities to pay to prioritize content.

Democrats’ bill, the “Save the Internet Act,” shoots for the same goals but it does so by classifying the internet as a utility, putting it in the purview of the FCC.

Democrats said Republicans squandered their chance to enact “light-touch” regulations in the time they held the majority after the repeal went into effect.

“You’re not in charge here anymore,” Rep. Mike Doyle, chairman of the Communications and Technology subcommittee, said.

He said having the FCC involved was the only way to create enforceable rules.

Tom Struble, an expert on telecoms, antitrust and consumer privacy issues at the R Street Institute, which opposes the bill, told The Washington Times that he hadn’t seen many signs of abuse right now, suggesting the push for action was overblown.

He said one incident when Verizon throttled a California fire department’s data plan last August was a customer service mistake, and it turned out the department was on the wrong type of plan.

While the issue might have violated other FCC rules for deceptive practices, it wasn’t a net neutrality violation, he argued.

It’s unlikely Democrats’ bill goes anywhere.

Senate Republicans are unlikely to let it clear their chamber.

“Net neutrality? Dead on arrival in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday.