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Democrats beat the gas on the net neutrality bill



  House Energy and Trade Committee

Democratic rep. Mike Doyle, Pennsylvania, is head of the House's Energy and Trade Committee Subcommittee on Communication and Technology.


Tom Williams / Getty Images

Rep. Mike Doyle, who commands the Democrats' bill in the House of Representatives to restore the Obama era's net neutrality protection, says he is not waiting for Republican support before the proposed legislation is voted.

In an interview with CNET, the Democrats from Pennsylvania who stole the Committee on Communications and Technology Communications Committee criticized their colleagues on the other side not to make a credible effort to work over party leadership to put net neutrality protection in place. He said he would like to get bipartisan support for Save the Internet Act, but that even without it his bill, supported by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate leader Chuck Schumer will receive a vote in April. Last week, Doyle's subcommittee held a bill on the bill which reintroduces the Federal Communications Commission rules repealed in December 2017 by the Republican-led FCC. As part of this suspension, the FCC issued its power to protect consumers online to the Federal Trade Commission.

The bill introduced by Democrats is an attempt to end an almost two decade-old struggle to codify rules that prevent broadband companies from abusing their power as gatekeepers to the internet. Specifically, it prevents broadband providers from blocking, slowing down or charging for faster Internet access. But it also restores the FCC's authority as "the rhythm police" in policing potential broadband crimes.

Republicans have criticized the law because they say it gives the FCC too much authority to regulate ISPs. Three invoices from Republicans were introduced in February which would put the FCC's three so-called "bright line" rules on non-blocking, non-proliferating and non-existent priorities in law. But the bills would still remove FCC monitoring. Doyle says the efforts do not go far enough to protect consumers.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Question: Several Republicans at the hearing on Tuesday, they said they were disappointed that you and your fellow Democrats did not take a two-party approach when drafting this bill. What do you say to that?
Doyle: Republicans made no effort to come to me to say let's sit down and work together on a net neutrality bill. They just introduced three bills to us without ever calling us in advance and without ever saying we want to work with you. What did they think I should do? Put them on the schedule and mark them?

Perhaps because they have been in the majority for the last eight years they forgot that they are not in the majority anymore. But I know when I was in the minority if I wanted to work on the side that could get a bill on the floor, I would go to the chairman and express my will to work with him.

So it rang me hollow when they said we are the ones who are not bipartisan. I don't know what they expected to do.

You led the effort of the last congress to pass a resolution on the Congress Review Act (CRA) in the Chamber to restore net neutrality. But not all Democrats in the House supported the petition, and it never came to a vote on the floor. Do you have enough votes now?
Doyle: This is another congress, there is much more of us here than was there last year. And I'm sure we have the support we need.

We shall forward this bill to the House. During the last Congress, we had the vast majority of our members – 180 some members – on the responsibilities. Now we also have 61 new members. So I would say that the vast majority, if not all of the 61 members, will vote for this bill.

How's the Senate side? Many of your colleagues say it's dead in the Republican controlled Senate.
Doyle: I look at it as follows: There were 52 votes for this in the Senate when the CRA passed (in that chamber). There were some Republicans who voted for the CRA. So we know there is Republican support there.

Secondly, I think our job is to send the strongest proposition we can send to the Senate. The Senate does not have a long history of just taking house bills and passing them. I am sure they will put it through their process.

But our job is to pass the strongest invoice we can that protect consumers. We want to start on our finish line and not on the 50th farm.

The main argument from Republicans during the hearing was that your bill contains elements in the Title II Regulation, the part of the 1996 Telecommunications Law that they say gives the FCC too much authority. Is that the essence of the disagreement between Republicans and Democrats?
Doyle: This is the case: Two FCC commissioners have tried to make net neutrality under Title I [of the Telecom Act] and they lost these cases twice in court. So when [FCC Chairman] Tom Wheeler made the 2015 Open Internet Order under Title II, it was brought to court and the courts confirmed it.

I think it's pretty clear what the courts have said. This can only be done in Title II.

But we do not even do that in Title II, because we add parts of Title II to law.

Republicans say the Democrats' bill still gives too much authority to the FCC.
Doyle: Look, this is a compromise bill. We take very little of Title II.

This is a bill that puts in place all the beliefs that Tom Wheeler made in the 2015 FCC order. The turmoil was always that a future FCC chairman could reintroduce the 27 sections and over 700 regulations as the former FCC chairman. It included the two major ones that telecoms were concerned about: tax systems and division.

But this legislation contains all the sections and regulations proposed in the Charter so that no new FCC chairman can undo it. It would take a congressional act for someone to do course regulation or network sharing. This was a big step towards the Republicans and the internet providers, which the Republicans chose not to recognize.

Which parts of Title II did you leave?
Doyle: The parts of Title II that we enter into the new Charter are very, very narrow. We have taken some sections that create a general behavior that states that ISPs may have no unfair or unreasonable behavior. It also makes the FCC and not the Federal Trade Commission agency to police it. This could not be properly policed ​​in the FTC. All the skills, such as technicians and engineers, are in the FCC. This is where it belongs.

We also have sections that restore the legal foundations of the Lifeline and Connect America programs [which provide funding for service for low-income and rural customers]. The rest of the 27 chapters and over 700 provisions of Title II that are not applicable or things that the telecom operators concerned with the FCC could do with them we took out.

Do you think the debate really comes down to the fact that Republicans and Internet service providers do not want the FCC to have broadband authority?
Doyle: I think it's pretty clear. What unfair or unreasonable behavior do they think we should allow? There must be a policeman on the beat.

As we all know, the three bright lines that we all have agreed upon – no blockage, no restriction, no paid priority – that does not cover all bad behavior. We see it with zero-coded data capsules; we have seen it with the firefighters in California; we have seen it in other cases.

This must also be a law for the future. When new technology emerges, there may be different ways for people to play the system. If the FCC has no flexibility according to the general standards of conduct, everything we have done has made three rules that are for the past and not for the future.

What will happen next?
Doyle: We will mark my invoice. We do it in regular order. We heard. We will have a subcommittee markup, a full committee mark. Everyone will have the chance to get their word.

When will it be voted?
Doyle: It may be as early as just before the Easter break, or it may be as late as the Easter break. But I think sometime in April is when we could vote on the floor.

There is also a case in the Federal Appeals Court for DC Circuit challenging the FCC's suspension of net neutrality. Could it affect what is happening on the legislative side?
Doyle: I don't think one affects the other. The courts should do what the courts should do. But the question does not go away if we do not do something legal.

The problem of net neutrality is that this is a problem that has been bounced for 15 years at the courts because there has been no legislative solution. When we fix this in law, it ends. We will finally give some security on this issue and resolve it once and for all. It's a problem for Congress.

Let's say you can get your bill through the House and the Senate, how likely is it that President Trump will veto it?
Doyle: I see no reason to veto it. This is not a partisan question. I don't know the president's personal view of net neutrality, I guess, like most Americans, he's for it.

The only place this proposition is controversial is in Washington, DC. It's not controversial in America. Democrats, Republicans and independence with over 80 percent are for this bill. So this is not a problem that they have a furious debate about inland.

I'm the last person trying to get into Donald Trump's head, but I think if it passes the House and Senate, the President would sign it. But we'll see what happens.


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