White House Promises To Veto Yet Another FCC-Limiting Bill If It Passes

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It may seem like Congress never gets anything done, but sometimes they really do! Case in point: a bill, sponsored by lawmakers who are still angry about the FCC’s net neutrality ruling last year, has managed to come out of committee and is scheduled for a House vote. And should the House and Senate both vote on that bill, it will go to the White House… where the president’s top advisors recommend it promptly be vetoed.

The bill, formally called the No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act (HR 2666), cleared committee in March — and the D.C. rumor mill has it that there will be a floor vote on it coming soon, perhaps even this week.

So why this bill?

This all goes straight back to the political posturing and shenanigans that have hounded the FCC’s net neutrality ruling from the first moment they had to start the process. The commission adopted the order in Feb. 2015, but even then that just kicked off the lawsuits, even while the ISPs just basically carried on apace.

Every one of the many times FCC chair Tom Wheeler has been called on to explain himself to Congress, he has said the same thing: The FCC has zero interest in imposing rate regulation on ISPs; the commission specifically forbore from (i.e. promised not to) including rate regulation in the Open Internet Rule; and should any future commissioners wish to change that, it would take an entire new rulemaking process, complete with public comment, to make that happen.

Congress, however, for reasons of its own, is disinclined to take Wheeler at his word, and that’s where this bill comes in. The Act would codify Wheeler’s forbearance into law pretty explicitly: “The Federal Communications Commission may not regulate the rates charged for broadband Internet access service,” it reads.

However, while the bill carves out exceptions for universal service, peering, and “roaming” charges, it also states that, “The term regulation or regulate means, with respect to a rate, the use by the Commission of rulemaking or enforcement authority to establish, declare, or review the reasonableness of such rate.” Meaning, yes, the FCC would be barred from investigating consumer complaints about exorbitant fees or charges.

That’s basically where the Administration draws the line. The official statement from the Executive office says that HR 2666, “is overly broad and extends far beyond codifying the FCC’s forbearance from applying provisions of the Communications Act related to tariffs, rate approval, or other forms of utility regulation.”

The statement continues, “Even as amended, [the bill] would restrict the FCC’s ability to take enforcement actions to protect consumers on issues where the FCC has received numerous consumer complaints. The bill also would hamstring the FCC’s public interest authority to review transactions. H.R. 2666 also could limit the Commission’s ability to address new practices and adapt its rules for a dynamic, fast-changing online marketplace.”

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