Democrats in Congress may be preparing legislation to clarify the authority of the Federal Communications Commission to regulate broadband providers following a decision by a federal appeals court overturning the commission's net neutrality rule.
"Strong enforcement of the Commission's Open Internet principles is the least Congress can do to preserve a free and open Internet, ensuring that networks remain a robustly competitive engine for innovation and economic growth," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., a big proponent of so-called net neutrality, in a statement after the decision was handed down. "I will utilize every arrow in my quiver, including legislation, to make sure the FCC can carry out this critical mission effectively."
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Verizon Communications Inc., and other Internet service providers can offer priority broadband access to certain websites, opposing the Obama administration's policy of treating all digital traffic equally, known as net neutrality. The court did not oppose the goal of the FCC to maintain an open Internet, however, so Democrats have urged FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to issue new regulations. Wheeler said in a statement the FCC is "not going to abandon its responsibility to oversee that broadband networks operate in the public interest."
Eshoo, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, had promised to take action if the court ruled against net neutrality in January 2013.
"Should the court overturn the FCC's rules, I will be prepared to introduce legislation clarifying the Commission's authority to ensure a free and open Internet, while preventing the use of Internet 'fast lanes' or other discriminatory tools," Eshoo said at the time.
When asked about Eshoo's plans her office reiterated her Tuesday statement.
Net neutrality has been a dividing line between Democrats and Republicans who generally agree Internet freedom is a good thing, but debate whether net neutrality gives too much power to regulators and has the potential to stifle the free market of the telecom industry. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, has said in the past that he would oppose any legislation that would codify network neutrality rules. In a Tuesday statement he supported the court's decision.
"This ruling stands up for consumers and providers alike by keeping the government's hands off the Internet," Walden said in a joint statement with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.
On the Senate side Democrats were irate about the court overturning the net neutrality rules but few hints at plans for legislation. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he is "ready to assist the Commission" to secure competition and the public interests of consumers on the Internet. Rockefeller's staff declined to comment beyond his statement available online.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also criticized the court in a statement on Tuesday.
"Network neutrality is a bedrock principle of the Internet, one that has allowed it to grow and flourish into the ultimate marketplace of ideas," Leahy said. "I will be closely monitoring this issue to ensure these principles are preserved."
Leahy, like Rockefeller, is known for introducing bills regarding Internet consumer interests. Leahy's staff declined to comment beyond the statement.