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By Lydia Beyoud
Jan. 20 — Bipartisan criticism of draft net neutrality legislation issued Jan. 16 is an indication the proposed bill is “close” to where it should end up, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told reporters.
“Usually, when it's getting beat up by both the left and the right, it tends to be somewhere close to maybe where we should end up, and that's kind of what's happening with the draft,” Thune said Jan. 20 after the committee's first organizational meeting.
Lawmakers are receptive to feedback and will take it into consideration, but Senate Commerce will likely introduce actual legislation soon, said Thune. Both Senate Commerce and the House Energy and Commerce Science and Technology Subcommittee will hold back-to-back hearings on net neutrality on Jan. 21.
Republican lawmakers are seeking to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband Internet services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Such a change under current law would provide the agency with expansive enforcement and regulatory powers over Internet service providers.
Thune said he has tried to engage the Obama administration, the FCC and congressional Democrats on the issue, but said “it seems like the administration is very dead set on moving forward and is pushing the FCC to move forward on Title II reclassification.” Echoing the comments of Title II opponents within the telecommunications industry, Thune said that approach would lead to reduced investment and “endless litigation and a lot of legal uncertainty.”
Thune said he would welcome collaboration from the administration “if they would work with us to create some bright lines to address the issues that people are most concerned about in that debate, but do it in a way that doesn't create all the ambiguity that's going to result as a function of the FCC doing this rather than having Congress do it.”
The discussion draft legislation won plaudits from some public interest groups for appearing to establish firm anti-blocking, anti-throttling, anti-paid prioritization provisions for wireline and wireless broadband services that pro-Title II advocates have called for, though without allowing for reclassification. However, the proposed laws would also prohibit the FCC from relying on its Section 706 authority to enforce those provisions, which critics said would essentially prevent the agency from ensuring companies follow the provisions except on a case-by-case adjudication basis.
In prepared opening remarks for the House's Jan. 21 hearing, obtained by Bloomberg BNA, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee and a strong Title II proponent, said she commended Republicans for agreeing that bright line rules are necessary for both fixed and mobile broadband.
However, she said the Republicans' proposal would create “a huge loophole called ‘specialized services’,” which she said was a loosely defined term allowing broadband providers to give themselves prioritized service. “This proposal carries an enormous bias against enforcement, which in turn, doesn't give consumers a leg to stand on.”
Senate Commerce confirmed the following subcommittee leadership assignments during its organizational meeting.
• Aviation Operations, Safety and Security will be chaired by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). The ranking member is Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).
• Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet will be chaired by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). The ranking member is Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
• Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security will be chaired by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas). The ranking member is Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
• Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard will be chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The ranking member was not yet announced.
• Science, Space and Competitiveness will be chaired by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The ranking member was not yet announced.
• Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security will be chaired by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).
• Full committee ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said he would announce the remaining ranking member assignments “in the very near future.”
Schatz said his priority on the subcommittee would be increasing broadband access nationwide and throughout Hawaii, according to a news release. “Open and fast internet access is critical for residents and businesses across the islands and will create high quality jobs and help Hawai'i diversify its economy,” he said.
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