Republicans face uphill battle on net neutrality bill

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2015 4:55 PM

By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Democrats on the Senate and House commerce committees on Wednesday signaled no interest in rushing to adopt "net neutrality" legislation before the Federal Communications Commission sets new Internet traffic rules next month.

In back-to-back hearings, Republican lawmakers quizzed representatives of the wireless and cable industries as well as some Internet retailers about potential legislation that would set rules for Web providers.

Republicans have proposed a bill that seeks to ensure that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all Internet traffic fairly on their networks, but short of the tougher regulatory regime backed by the Obama administration.

Though Republicans control both congressional chambers and could pass legislation along party lines, bipartisan support would help weaken the threat of President Barack Obama's veto.

Obama has endorsed regulating ISPs under a section of communications law known as Title II, which would treat them more like public utilities. ISPs say the regulatory burden of that approach would increase costs and stifle investments.

The FCC plans to vote on Feb. 26 on rules aimed at ensuring "net neutrality" that are expected to follow Obama's path.

"Some maintain that we must have congressional action on net neutrality prior to FCC action. I do not share that idea," said Senator Bill Nelson, one of the Democrats whose backing Republicans have sought.

Representative Frank Pallone, another Democrat eyed by Republican colleagues, also urged the FCC to move forward as the legislative effort began.

"While we in Congress continue our work, I do expect the FCC to continue its work," he said.

House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden told reporters that Republicans would pursue the legislative push regardless of the FCC's vote and will continuing to negotiate with Democrats.

"I do wish the FCC was more open to working with its authorizing committee, I think that would be an appropriate course of action," he said. "But I also respect the pressure the commission is under given the president's individual and focused directives."

The draft legislation proposes to ban blocking or unfairly slowing websites, among other principles. Though Internet advocates have criticized it as leaving loopholes that could undermine consumer protections, the bill marks a notable departure for Republicans, who often called net neutrality a "solution in search of a problem."

"The chairman is bringing some of us kicking and screaming along with him on this policy," said Representative John Shimkus, a Republican, calling the bill a middle ground.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Christian Plumb)