Congressional Republicans introduced net neutrality legislation on Friday, hoping to derail efforts to regulate the Internet as a public utility.
Net neutrality refers to the concept that internet service providers should not be allowed to either block legal content or prioritize certain types of content by charging fees for faster access speeds.
Although net neutrality has broad popular support in principle, there has been considerable debate over how it should be accomplished, with some advocating for government regulations while others are pushing for a more limited approach. (RELATED: Who Pays for Net Neutrality?)
In a joint press release from the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, legislators “unveiled draft legislation to provide clear rules of the road for open and unfettered access to the Internet.”
They claim the bill guarantees that consumers “will continue to be the decision makers for the content they want, while ensuring that innovation and investment continue to fuel the robust future of the Internet.”
Both committees have scheduled hearings on Jan. 21, just over a month ahead of a planned vote by the Federal Communications Commission on whether to classify the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act, just like landline telephones.
Last year, President Obama threw his support behind the Title II approach, calling on the FCC to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality… while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.” (RELATED: Obama Announces Support for Net Neutrality)
As an independent agency, however, the FCC is not bound by Obama’s preferences, and opponents of Title II are concerned that a regulatory solution would open the door to price controls and other market-distorting regulations.
Republicans are portraying their net neutrality bill as a compromise, saying it codifies the bipartisan principles of net neutrality while explicitly denying the FCC regulatory authority over the Internet under the Telecommunications Act.
“By clearly outlining the appropriate rules of the road, and leaving twentieth century utility regulation behind, we can be sure that innovators continue full throttle in bringing remarkable new technologies to all Americans,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
“This is the right solution that everyone, if they are serious in standing up for consumers, should be able to get behind,” Upton added. (RELATED: Comcast, Time Warner Tank After Obama Announces Net Neutrality Support)
Sen. John Thune, who chairs the Senate committee, called the bill “one more step in our open and ongoing discussion about creating regulatory certainty for the Internet,” adding that. “By turning the FCC away from a heavy-handed and messy approach to regulating the Internet, this draft protects both consumers who rely on Internet services and innovators who create jobs.”