The House voted Wednesday to restore Obama-era internet rules that would require service providers to treat content equally, with Democrats saying the legislation followed up on a key campaign promise.
Dubbed “net neutrality,” the policy would prevent service providers from throttling a user’s connection speed based on the user’s activities.
Such a policy was put in place by the Federal Communications Commission during the Obama administration, then revoked under the Trump administration. Democrats’ bill would restore the 2015 rules.
“Net neutrality ensures that any business, no matter how small, gets the same internet at the same speeds as giant corporate interests. That’s only fair,” Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone said in defending the bill on the House floor.
The bill passed on a 232-190 vote. Only one Republican joined Democrats in support.
Liberal activists have pleaded for the rules, saying they feared the mischief major corporations could play in shaping what the public sees online. That argument has overwhelming support among the public, too, with polls showing net neutrality popular with Democrats and Republicans.
Opponents, though, argue that government intervention could stifle competition and innovation in the delivery of online services.
“Please show me what’s so broken about the internet that the federal government needs to come in and save it,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise. “The great thing about the internet today is there are so many different people competing for your business, and they’re spending billions of dollars to do it.”
Still, Republicans did have their own plan. Rep. Greg Walden said the GOP was ready to embrace a policy that prohibits site-blocking, speed-throttling or allowing entities to pay to prioritize content.
The Democrats’ Save the Internet Act aims for the same goals, but does so by classifying the internet as a utility and putting it in the purview of the FCC.
Democrats said that Republicans squandered their chance to enact “light touch” regulations in the time they held the majority after the repeal went into effect.
“You’re not in charge here anymore,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology.
The Pennsylvania Democrat said having the FCC involved was the only way to create enforceable rules.
Tom Struble, an expert on telecoms, antitrust and consumer privacy issues at the R Street Institute, which opposes the bill, told The Washington Times that he hadn’t seen many signs of abuse right now, suggesting the push for action was overblown.
He said that one incident — Verizon throttling a California fire department’s data plan in August — was a customer service mistake and it turned out the department was on the wrong type of plan.
While the issue might have violated other FCC rules for deceptive practices, it wasn’t a net neutrality violation, Mr. Struble said.
It’s unlikely Democrats’ bill goes anywhere.
Senate Republicans are unlikely to let it clear their chamber.
“Net neutrality? Dead on arrival in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Tuesday.