True to her promise from last week, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee has introduced net neutrality legislation that would allow Congress to pick up where the FCC left off when it repealed open internet regulations on December 14. At six and a half pages, Blackburn’s draft bill is a breezy read compared to the 313 pages of FCC regulations it replaces. It’s a lot easier to amend vague points in an old law than to justify a legal interpretation of those vagaries.
But the House bill could stand some more verbiage on the issue of “fast lanes” that provide better bandwidth for some content sources over competitors. The bill has clear-cut language prohibiting outright blocking or degrading access to legal content, but other words critical to the net neutrality debate—like “fast lanes” or “prioritization”—are absent.
The legislation does say that ISPs are free to offer “specialized services.” Could that be, for instance, a Verizon video service that plays better than Netflix or Hulu, or an extra fee Netflix and Hulu must pay to remain competitive? Perhaps. The bill says, “Specialized services may not be offered or provided in ways that threaten the meaningful availability of broadband internet access service.”
Would making some services better with extra bandwidth violate that requirement? If someone thinks so, they don’t have many options to challenge it. Two of the stated purposes at the beginning of the bill are “to limit the authority of the Federal Communications Commission and to preempt State law with respect to internet openness obligations.”