House votes to restore net neutrality rules

By Seth Fiegerman, CNN Business

(CNN) — The House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill to restore net neutrality protections that were repealed by President Donald Trump’s Federal Communications Commission in a controversial move more than a year ago.

The bill, called the Save the Internet Act, would reinstate protections that require internet service providers to treat all online content the same. Providers would once again be explicitly prohibited from blocking, speeding up, or slowing down access to specific online services.

Its passage represents a victory for Democrats, technology companies and consumer advocacy groups who have loudly protested the FCC’s repeal of the rules, but it may only be a symbolic victory. The bill must also pass the Republican-controlled Senate and be approved by President Trump.

On Monday, the White House said it “strongly opposes” the bill, signaling that President Trump would veto it. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday the bill was “dead on arrival in the Senate.”

“This legislation is a big-government solution in search of a problem,” Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, said in a statement after the bill’s passage Wednesday. “The Internet is free and open, while faster broadband is being deployed across America. This bill should not and will not become law.”

The latest legislative effort comes amid a legal showdown over the repeal. A collection of tech companies, advocacy groups and nearly two dozen states sued the FCC last year to challenge the repeal. Oral arguments in the case, Mozilla versus the FCC, were heard in February.

A number of states, including California, Washington and Vermont, pushed forward with their own net neutrality rules, despite the FCC asserting authority to prevent states from pursuing laws inconsistent with the net neutrality repeal. Some agreed not to enforce the laws pending the outcome of the Mozilla case.

“Net Neutrality is now one step closer to being reinstated as the law of the land,” Gigi Sohn, a counselor to former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and a staunch supporter of net neutrality, said in a statement Wednesday.

The net neutrality rules were first approved by the FCC in 2015, during the Obama administration, and were intended to keep the internet open and fair. The Republican-led FCC voted to repeal the protections in late 2017.

In the absence of an explicit ban on these actions, providers are required to publicly disclose any instance of blocking, throttling or paid prioritization. It will then be evaluated based on whether or not the activity is anti-competitive.

The concern among net neutrality advocates is that the repeal risks giving internet providers too much control over how online content is delivered. It may also make it harder for the next generation of online services to compete if they have to pay up to be placed in a so-called internet fast lane.

“Simply put, large corporations should not be in charge of deciding what Americans see online,” Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat and chairman of the House Rules Committee, said at a hearing on Monday. “A free and open internet is a critical part of enabling free speech and allowing our digital economy to thrive.”

Conservative groups and Republican lawmakers pushed back against the attempt to undo the net neutrality repeal, arguing that it would grant the government too much control over the internet. The Trump administration said the bill would “return to the heavy-handed regulatory approach of the previous administration.”

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