Proposed Senate Bill Would Block Internet Fast Lanes, Mandate Net Neutrality

Ever since Tom Wheeler unveiled a plan last month that would allow Internet Service Providers to charge for paid content prioritization, accusations have flown thick and fast that the proposed rules would effectively kill net neutrality. On the side of "Scrap Wheeler's net neutrality plan" you have more than 100 corporations including Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter. On the side of "Allowed paid prioritization" you have... well, the ISPs who see it as a marvelous way to increase profits without improving the quality of their product. Now, a pair of Democrats -- Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) and Doris Matsui (D-Cali) have introduced a bill to the House and Senate that would require the FCC to enforce net neutrality -- though there are some substantial questions left unanswered in the current text.

The bill, the charmingly named "Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act," would require the FCC to prohibit fast lane access agreements between ISPs and companies like Netflix or their own traffic. Comcast, in other words, would not be allowed to treat its own Comcast Video service preferentially compared to Netflix. Nor would it be allowed to strike a deal with Netflix to deliver content on higher priority bandwidth to Netflix users.  All streams would be equal.

Congresswoman Doris Matsui - We Like her style.

What's odd about this bill is that while it mandates the FCC to accomplish these tasks, it does not give the FCC any additional authority to do so. This is a rather puzzling omission, since the FCC's previous attempt to regulate net neutrality, weak, and riddled with loopholes as it was, was still flung out of court. The court's reasoning? By failing to categorize ISPs as common carriers, the FCC had effectively ceded its authority to regulate net neutrality in the manner it sought to use. Wheeler's proposal still relies on the same statutes as the original, now-defunct legislation -- it's not clear if the courts will accept his work anymore than they accepted former FCC Chairperson Julian Genachowksi's net neutrality mandate.

Jon Oliver's Last Week Tonight did a hilarious takedown of anti net neutrality opinions while emphasizing its importance to the modern Internet; we've embedded the video below if you haven't seen it yet.

Can this bill pass?

In a word, "no." With the GOP holding the House, the chances of any agreement that would anger the telecommunication businesses is nonexistent. The GOP is openly hostile to the idea of net neutrality; last February GOP Representative Martha Blackburn (R-TN) declared the entire project "a solution in search of a problem" and vowed to block this "socialistic" proposal, stating "Federal control of the Internet will restrict our online freedom and leave Americans facing the same horrors that they have experienced with"

Such remarks raise the question of whether or not Rep. Blackburn understands what the Internet is, or how it works, but the point stands -- the GOP isn't going to support any effort to establish net neutrality. The same toxic stew of blatant non-competition, consolidation, and rent-seeking behavior will persist into the future, as the US continues to fall further and further behind other nations that don't allow lobbyists to become the head of the government organizations responsible for their own regulation.