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Cybersecurity & Standards, Free Expression, Open Internet

House Set to Vote on Restoring Strong Net Neutrality Protections

This week, the Save the Internet Act (H.R. 1644) passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with only minor amendments and is expected to see a floor vote as early as next week. The bill is short, but powerful. It restores the strong consumer protections the FCC issued in its 2015 Open Internet Order to prevent ISPs from exerting unwanted, discriminatory control over internet traffic on their networks. The FCC repealed its own rules in 2018 and disavowed most of its statutory authority to protect consumers, choosing instead to rely on transparency requirements and market forces to dissuade ISPs from engaging in discriminatory practices. The Save the Internet Act would restore both the rules and the Commission’s authority, but limits the Commission’s ability to add or subtract regulations beyond those set out in the 2015 Open Internet Order.

So far, the bill has passed from subcommittee through committee without accumulating much in the way of weakening amendments. Not for lack of effort, however. During the extended markup, more than a dozen amendments were proposed, including several that purported to do things the Open Internet Order already did, such as establishing carve-outs for specialized applications like telemedicine. These amendments, and the accompanying rhetoric, reflect some degree of misunderstanding (or misdirection) about what the Open Internet Order did and even show Congressional confusion about the distinction between the internet and the “internet economy,” which is almost entirely driven by the world wide web. The Save the Internet Act does not “regulate the internet” and it certainly does not regulate the web — it prevents some practices of ISPs. Nor does the FCC’s authority to prevent those practices stifle the “internet economy” — it protects the competitive aspects of that economy from undue influence by access providers.

In the end, only two amendments were approved by vote. One “locked in” the Commission’s previous decisions on which sections of the Communications Act it would apply and which it would “forbear from” applying to broadband internet access services (BIAS). A second amendment gave ISPs with fewer than 100,000 customers a year to begin complying with the transparency reporting requirements. Even with these two amendments, the Save the Internet Act would provide clear, brightline rules against the most egregious practices — blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. Equally importantly, especially in light of the FTC’s recent admission that it could not address most net neutrality violations, the Act would restore the FCC as a “cop on the beat,” capable of investigating and enforcing against other practices that threaten the open and flat nature of the internet. These elements are essential for an effective set of net neutrality protections.

The Save the Internet Act is the most direct way to restore these important protections and the FCC’s authority to enforce them. As the bill proceeds through the House and on to the Senate, CDT urges Congress to represent the will of their constituents, more than 80% of whom support the protections the Save the Internet Act would cement in place.