If there’s going to be a quick resolution to the net neutrality debate, it won’t come from Congress. Democrat Senator Henry Waxman says he’s dropping plans for legislation after failing to secure the backing of his Republican opponents. Waxman had hoped to be able to negotiate enough cross-party support that a bill could pass before next month’s elections. Without that support, there’s no real prospect of getting a yes vote before that time. And with the control of both houses of Congress unpredictable after that election (even if the Democrats hold on to the Senate, they may lose their ability to block delaying tactics), there’s a good chance that Waxman’s party will have to concentrate on bills it has the strongest chance of passing for the next two years, meaning a new neutrality law would likely take a back seat anyway.
The draft bill, which leaked earlier this week, would largely have given Congressional force to what the Federal Communications Commission already considers the legal position on the issue. It would have specifically stated that internet carriers come under the same law as phone companies and that this gave the FCC the right to enforce a government policy of net neutrality. That meant carriers would not have been able to prioritize particular types of traffic beyond those actions required for “reasonable network management.” Violation would have opened the company up to a fine as high as $2 million.
The trade-off for the FCC getting these powers confirmed in primary legislation is that the bill would have specifically prevented it from imposing any other rules on broadband companies. It would also have limited the regulations to wired services only, leaving wireless companies free to discriminate in favor of particular internet companies.
Waxman hasn’t ruled out trying to bring in legislation again, but in the meantime is urging the FCC to return to its previously debated “third way” strategy of reclassifying broadband as a communications rather than information service (thus coming under FCC control) but doing so with a wording that limited its regulatory powers to the net neutrality issue.