After a year of debates and a month before the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC’s) rulemaking on network neutrality, the GOP has finally joined the party. Through a draft bill released late last week, congressional Republicans have taken a step in the direction of supporting network neutrality. That’s a good thing, and moves them closer to the existing consensus. Roughly four million Americans submitted comments to the FCC calling for real network neutrality rules over the past year, and polls show that both Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly support a ban on fast lanes.
But, as written, the Republican bill provides network neutrality in name only. At first glance, the bill purports to ban paid prioritization, throttling, and blocking and applies the same rules to fixed and mobile networks, echoing language used by President Obama and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to describe their network neutrality proposals. But on closer examination, the bill is so narrowly written that it fails to adequately protect users, innovators, and speakers against blocking, discrimination, and access fees.
A meaningful network neutrality regime requires bright-line rules prohibiting all forms of access fees, application-specific discrimination, and blocking. Unfortunately, the Republican bill is insufficient along each key dimension required to achieve real network neutrality, thereby dramatically departing from the network neutrality consensus that emerged over the past year. Thus, as currently written, the bill does not constitute an alternative to the adoption of meaningful network neutrality rules by the FCC under Title II of the Communications Act, coupled with appropriate forbearance.