Draft net neutrality bill goes easy on wireless

A draft piece of legislation leaked out of the office of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) applies a light touch to regulating wireless broadband services, while curtailing the powers of the FCC over wired broadband.

Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is trying to shepherd a net neutrality bill through the House before the November elections, with the hope that the Senate could pass a companion bill during a lame-duck session after the election. Needless to say, the draft bill is a long way from becoming law.

According to the draft, wireless Internet providers will not be able to block consumers from accessing lawful Internet websites, subject to reasonable network management. They also won't be able to block "lawful applications that compete with the provider's voice or video communications services in which the provider has an attributable interest, subject to reasonable network management." Further, wireless carriers will have to "disclose accurate and relevant information in plain language regarding the price, performance and network management practices" of service, "sufficient for consumers to make informed choices regarding use of such services and for content, application, service and device providers to develop and market new Internet offerings."

A CTIA spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the draft.

In language that is sure to anger proponents of net neutrality, Waxman's legislation specifically prohibits the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a Title II service, a move that would give it cleaner legal authority to put net neutrality regulations in place. The FCC will have until Dec. 31, 2011, to report back to Congress on whether it needs more authority to implement its national broadband plan. However, the legislation does allow the commission to look at net neutrality violations on a case-by-case basis, and gives the agency the authority to fine violators up to $2 million.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said he would welcome a legislative compromise to the agency's net neutrality bypass; telcos and wireless carriers are hoping to avoid an effort by the FCC to reclassify broadband as a Title II common-carrier service.

In late August the commission opened up to public comment on two of the thorniest issues surrounding the debate: whether and how the rules should be applied to wireless networks, and how to treat "specialized" services.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Genachowski dismissed criticism that the FCC is moving too slowly on net neutrality. He said the commission has been working to turn the goals of its national broadband plan into concrete rules. However, Genachowski conceded that he was frustrated.

"I'm impatient, too. This is an important area that touches a lot, and it's important for our economy," Genachowski said. "There's a lot to do. There's a lot we've gotten done, but there's a lot to do."

FCC officials told the Journal that the commission is going to move forward soon on several proposals, including incentive auctions that will make broadcast TV spectrum available for wireless broadband use.

For more:
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article
- see this National Journal article
- see this The Hill article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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