Bill would prohibit FCC from reclassifying broadband as utility

Latta's legislation would limit the FCC's authority in its current net neutrality proceeding

A U.S. lawmaker has introduced legislation that would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband as a common-carrier utility, a move many net neutrality advocates have called for.

The bill, introduced late Wednesday by Representative Bob Latta, an Ohio Republican, would block the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a common-carrier telecom service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Earlier this month, the FCC released a proposal to restore net neutrality rules and asked for public comment on whether to reclassify broadband instead of taking an approach advocated by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that would allow broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management.

Reclassifying broadband would hurt the Internet economy, Latta said in a statement. "At a time when the Internet economy is thriving and driving robust productivity and economic growth, it is reckless to suggest, let alone adopt, policies that threaten its success," he said. "Reclassification would heap 80 years of regulatory baggage on broadband providers, restricting their flexibility to innovate and placing them at the mercy of a government agency."

The legislation would give all Internet businesses the certainty they need to continue investing in broadband networks and services, Latta added.

"In light of the FCC initiating yet another attempt to regulate the Internet, upending long-standing precedent and imposing monopoly-era telephone rules and obligations on the 21st Century broadband marketplace, Congress must take action to put an end to this misguided regulatory proposal," he said. "The Internet has remained open and continues to be a powerful engine fueling private enterprise, economic growth and innovation absent government interference and obstruction."

The legislation may get a positive reception in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has opposed past FCC efforts to pass net neutrality rules. It is less likely to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, said earlier this month he plans to introduce similar legislation.

Trade groups USTelecom and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association applauded Latta's legislation.

"Since the late 1990's, policymakers and regulators have established a bipartisan consensus that a light regulatory touch provides the best path for ensuring that the Internet will become an engine of economic growth and social prosperity," the NCTA said in a statement. "We support the efforts ... to codify current policy and to ensure that the Internet continues to grow and remains open and free from the burdens of outdated, public utility regulation."

However, many people filing comments in the FCC's net neutrality proceeding want the regulations. Advocates of strong net neutrality rules have criticized Wheeler's proposal as too weak, potentially allowing broadband providers to charge Web content producers for priority traffic.

In the past month, the FCC has received more than 46,000 comments on the net neutrality proposal.

"The internet should be managed like a utility," wrote one person. "Don't let corporate greed degrade line speeds."

"I am requesting that the FCC reclassifies Internet Service Providers as Title II common carriers," another person wrote. "The USA is founded on principles of equality and freedom. These foundational concepts need to be applied to the Internet, particularly as we as a society move forward with technological advances. The internet is vital to society, and this uniquely creative and open marketplace must remain a place for all of us regardless of deep pockets and political connections."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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