Cantwell Introduces Bill Applying New Net Neutrality Rules To Wireless

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Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has introduced a bill, the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011, that would create a new section under Title II of the Communications Act enshrining the Federal Communications Commission's six new network neutrality rules and applying them to wireless.

Those were steps the FCC was not willing to take, at least not as part of its Dec. 21 vote to expand and codify its network neutrality guidelines. But the commission did apply transparency and site-blocking prohibitions to wireless as part of that vote, said it would revisit the wireless space down the road, and left open the possibility of reclassifying Internet access services under Title II, though said it could justify its Title I ancillary authority.

Cantwell was joined by co-sponsor Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). Both were critical of the FCC rules as not going far enough. They were the product of talks with industry stakeholders, many of whom, including Comcast, signaled that while they thought the regs were unnecessary, they could live with them. In fact, Comcast agreed to live with them regardless of whether they were thrown out by the courts (Verizon and MetroPCS have already sued the FCC).

According to Cantwell's office and a draft of the bill, it would go beyond the FCC's new regs to prevent paid prioritization (the new regs don't prevent it, though they assume it is discrimination unless an affirmative case can be made for it). It would also address the complaining by Level 3 about peering agreements as de facto discrimination. "The bill also calls for broadband providers to work with local, middle-mile providers on fair and reasonable terms and network management conditions," Cantwell said in a statement.

But there is much more. It would also apply all those regs to wireless as well as wired broadband. The FCC said wireless architecture was sufficiently different to warrant not imposing the same obligations.

The bill would also promote broadband adoption by requiring broadband service to be supplied to anyone on "reasonable request," require stand-alone broadband be offered at reasonable rates and terms and make that stand-alone requirement the price of Universal Service Fund participation. Those are the billions that come from customers and would go to subsidize broadband in places where it would be uneconomical to supply it on a free market basis.

The Senate bill would essentially undo the compromise reached by the FCC. It is unlikely to gain any traction in the House, where the Republican majority is opposed to the compromise net neutrality rules, much less the Cantwell proposal to tighten and toughen them.

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