Democrats on Thursday introduced a net neutrality bill to codify broadband Internet as an essential service. File Photo by Molly Riley/UPI | License Photo
July 29 (UPI) -- Democrats have introduced a net neutrality bill to reclassify broadband Internet as an essential service that will also arm the federal regulator with the power to prohibit discriminatory practices.
The Democrats unveiled the bill, titled the Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, on Thursday, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California arguing "everyone deserves access to affordable, high-speed Internet service."
"A free and open Internet is more than an invaluable tool -- it is a basic necessity for Americans to learn, work, start businesses, access healthcare, stay connected with loved ones and more," she said in a statement. "With our Net Neutrality and Broadband Justice Act, House Democrats are putting people over politics: leveling the playing field for consumers and advancing broadband justice in America."
The two-page bill would specifically codify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, a move that would give the Federal Communications Commission the authority to oversee broadband providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, to prohibit them from employing discriminatory practices, such as limiting communications speeds, blocking access to content or favoring some Internet content over others in exchange for payment.
Democrats have been trying to reimpose these Internet neutrality rules that were first put in place in 2015 by the Obama administration but were repealed two years later under then-President Donald Trump.
During his first summer in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing the commission to work on re-adopting the 2015 rules, but the FCC's four-member leadership is divided along political lines and hasn't been able to budge on net neutrality. Also the confirmation of Gigi Sohn, Biden's nominee for the fifth and final FCC seat, has been stalled for months. He nominated her in October.
The bill is seen as a way to sidestep the FCC, and has the support of media and democracy advocates, with Matt Wood, vice president of policy and general counsel at nonpartisan Free Press Action, stating the pandemic has shown us how "absolutely crucial" Internet access is.
"It's just common sense for lawmakers to confirm the legal treatment of broadband as something that should be available to all," he said in a statement.
Pro-democracy organization Common Cause said the unregulated Internet since 2017 has seen providers throttle popular video streaming services and degrade video quality to force customers to pay more for better quality, as well as create monopolist plans that favor its services over others.
"This approach also weakened the FCC's ability to ensure households remained connected during the height of the pandemic," Yosef Getachew, Common Cause media and democracy program director, said in a statement.
The Internet left in the wake of the Trump administration is without comprehensive consumer protections that leave customers vulnerable, Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., argued in favor of Congress passing the bill.
"For the online ecosystem to remain a dynamic engine of innovation, we need clear rules of the road that prevent Internet service providers from blocking, slowing and prioritizing web traffic," she said in a statement. "This bill will give the FCC the power to adapt to the ever-changing marketplace, defend equitable access and promote free expression and innovation online."