A draft on a network neutrality bill that has been in the works in the House for the past few weeks surfaced late yesterday. The proposed bill is championed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Chairman Waxman is trying to pass net neutrality legislation before the House adjourns this week. If he manages to get this bill passed before adjournment, the Senate could pass companion legislation during a lame duck session of Congress after the November elections. If you need a reminder of what exactly net neutrality is and why exactly it matters for real estate, check out this earlier post.
The draft treats wired and wireless broadband services with differing levels of protection. It also prevents the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from reclassifying broadband service as a Title II service. That’s policy geek speak for clarifying and arguably expanding the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband services.
Wired broadband providers would not be allowed to “unreasonably” discriminate against lawful content, applications, services or devices, subject to an exception for reasonable network management. The draft also requires broadband service providers to disclose their network management practices in language understandable to consumers.
Wireless providers are treated differently under the draft. They would not be able to block consumers from accessing lawful websites or “lawful applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video communications services” subject to reasonable network management. Application stores operated by wireless providers would still be able to require pre-approval of new apps for whatever criteria they deem fit before they are allowed on their networks. In addition, wireless providers would be required to disclose accurate and relevant information in plain language regarding the price, performance and network management practices of their service. This disclosure contains some of what has been demanded by consumer advocates in a Cell Phone Bill of Rights.
Notably, the draft contains a sunset provision which means all of these requirements go away in 2012 and it would be up to a new Congress to decide if they should continue. Before the sunset kicks in, the FCC would be required to report to Congress on whether it requires additional authority to implement its National Broadband Plan.
The bill most certainly will draw fire from the most ardent of net neutrality supporters for the failure to reclassify broadband providers, the differing treatment for wireless carriers and the failure to address other aspects of the National Broadband Plan. However, it just may well be the most that Chairman Waxman can accomplish in the current political environment. Even in its scaled down form, it will be a heavy lift to get this legislation passed in the waning days of this Congress that already has a crowded legislative agenda.