Cantwell bill expands net neutrality to wireless

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) has introduced a new bill related to net neutrality. It is called the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011.

According to Broadcasting & Cable the bill would create a new section under Title II of the Communications Act elevating the Federal Communication Commission’s six new network neutrality rules and making sure they are applied to wireless.


Those were the steps the FCC was not interested in taking, at least not as part of its Dec. 21 vote to extend and classify its network neutrality rules. However, the commission did enact transparency and site-blocking prohibitions to wireless as part of the vote, the commission said it would revisit the wireless space in the future, and they left open the possibility of reclassifying Internet services under Title II, though it said it could justify its Title I ancillary authority.


Cantwell was supported by co-sponsor Al Franken (D-Minn.). Both have said that the FCC rules do not go far enough. They were the product of talks with industry stakeholders, many who, including Comcast, signaled that while they thought the regulations were unnecessary, they could live with them. Comcast actually agreed to live with them even if they were thrown out by the courts. Verizon and MetroPCS have already sued the FCC.


According to Cantwell’s office and a working draft of the bill, it would go further than the FCC’s new regulations to prevent paid prioritization of Internet traffic and data. It would also address the complaints by Level 3 Communications about peering agreements as a form of 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 for the media.

There is more to the bill. It would also apply all of those regulations to wireless as well as wired broadband. The FCC said wireless systems were sufficiently different to warrant not imposing the same obligations.


The bill would also encourage the wider adoption of broadband Internet by requiring broadband service to be supplied to anyone on “reasonable request,” require stand-alone broadband be offered at affordable 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 bill would basically undo the compromise that the FCC reached with all of the telecommunications giants on their recent net neutrality ruling. It is not likely that it will gain any support in the House, where the Republicans are opposed to the compromise net neutrality rules, much less the Cantwell and Franken proposal to tweak and strengthen them.