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Congressman pitches bill to disarm FCC in net neutrality warfare

Proposal would take 'nuclear option' off the table

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An Ohio congressman is seeking to strip the FCC of its biggest weapon in the battle over net-neutrality protections.

Republican representative Bob Latta says that his HR 4752 would amend the Communications Act of 1934 in order to remove the portion of the act which would allow the FCC to reclassify broadband services.

That portion of the bill, dubbed Title II, grants the FCC the power to name broadband a "common carrier" platform, which would make it — and, more importantly, its providers — subject to strict non-discrimination rules that could prevent those providers from prioritizing the delivery of certain types of traffic.

The ability to invoke Title II has been seen as a "nuclear option" for the FCC in its efforts to put net neutrality regulations in place.

Opponents and critics of the FCC's Open Internet campaign have suggested that the threat of Title II be taken off the table or removed outright from the FCC's toolkit. Arguing that the commission is trying to impose regulation on the internet, Latta is looking to remove the option from the discussion.

"The Internet has remained open and continues to be a powerful engine fueling private enterprise, economic growth and innovation absent government interference and obstruction," the congressman said.

"My legislation will provide all participants in the internet ecosystem the certainty they need to continue investing in broadband networks and services that have been fundamental for job creation, productivity and consumer choice."

Not surprisingly, the bill is being championed by telecommunications industry groups. The Telecommunications Industry Association and other lobbying groups have already offered endorsements for Latta's proposed act.

Meanwhile, net neutrality backers such as Free Press claim that Latta is looking to handcuff the FCC in order to let ISPs dictate how the internet will operate.

"Without that authority — provided under Title II of the Communications Act — the FCC lacks any effective means to stop internet discrimination," the group writes in a blog post.

"Companies like AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner Cable could forge ahead with their plans to create a two-tiered internet, striking special fast-lane deals with websites and services that they like, while relegating the rest of us to slower and congested ones," they write.

Legislative bids to block net neutrality efforts are likely to pick up in the coming weeks and months as the FCC continues to work on passing its proposed Open Internet rules. A report from the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation found that lobbying groups opposing net neutrality outspent backers by a margin of roughly three to one.

The commission angered groups on both sides of the argument when it introduced a set of proposals which would allow for limited implementation of internet "fast lanes" while still maintaining control by the FCC to limit anti-competitive deals. The proposal remains open for public comment. ®

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