U.S. House passes Doyle bill to restore net neutrality rules

by Pittsburgh Post -Gazette

WASHINGTON – Every low-budget tech startup would have the same open access to the internet as powerhouses like Netflix and Facebook under legislation the U.S. House passed Wednesday on a near party-line vote.

The Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to follow suit and, if it does, President Donald Trump has promised a veto.

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, has been the driving force behind the legislation since 2017 when the Federal Communications Commission reversed Obama-era rules that had prohibited internet service providers from blocking, throttling or prioritizing access based on content.

“The legislation … charts a new course for net neutrality and would put in place 21st century rules for a 21st century internet,” he said during floor debate.

Mr. Doyle’s legislation would restore those protections. It also would expand broadband deployment in rural areas, protect customers’ account data, empower the FCC to address consumer complaints against internet service providers, and ensure access to service for people with disabilities.

All Democrats and one Republican — U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Florida — voted in favor.

Republicans say they fear that the legislation would open the door to taxation and regulation. Some said it could lead to a government takeover of the internet.

Mr. Doyle said the bill does not allow that, and that it would not supersede the Internet Tax Freedom Act, but Republicans appeared not to be persuaded by Mr. Doyle’s assurances that the change would prohibit the FCC from setting rates, requiring providers to unbundle services or levying taxes on broadband access.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, ranking Republican on the Energy & Commerce Committee, remained concerned.

The bill “gives vast unprecedented powers to the FCC to regulate the internet like it’s never been regulated before,” he said. “We could agree on no throttling, no blocking, and the paid-prioritization issue” but not the expansion of FCC authority, he said.

“Once you classify internet communication as telecommunication utility-style services, tax administrators are going to do what they do best, and that’s find a way to charge fees and taxes on this category. They understand how to get milk from every cow that walks by,” Mr. Walden said during floor debate Wednesday. “Your vote is pretty simple: tax the internet, don’t tax the internet,” he told his colleagues.

Mr. Doyle responded forcefully. He said Republicans are raising the non-issue of taxation as cover for their real goal of protecting corporations from regulation at the expense of consumers. He said if Republicans were really interested in net neutrality they would have already replaced the rules the FCC stripped away.

“They did nothing because they don’t believe in net neutrality, and they don’t believe in protecting consumers,” he said, turning toward the right side of the House chamber. “I’ve got news for this side of the aisle: You’re not in charge here anymore. This is a new day.”

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta of Ohio, ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said he supports the legislation’s prohibition on blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, but shared Mr. Walden’s concerns about overreach.

“This is the ‘Government Take Over the Internet Act.’ This is not about net neutrality,” he said during floor debate.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.