Boucher's Net Neutrality Effort Could Eclipse the Markey Bill

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on September 30, 2009

The Federal Communications Commission is moving aggressively—or as aggressively as the ponderous FCC can move—to implement Chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposals to expand and codify network neutrality rules. But the commission faces a potentially huge challenge: Any enforcement action it takes under the new rules is almost certain to be challenged in court, and the FCC’s legal track record on on efforts to regulate data services has been dismal.

The best answer, of course, would be for Congress to give the FCC the authority to enforce neutrality rules. Representative Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chair of the House subcommitte on technology, communications, and the Internet, seems to be ready to step to the plate.

Until now, the leading vehicle has been a bill, sponsored by Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) that would enforce a strict definition of network neutrality. The proposed legislation would, among other bar carriers from offering extra-cost high priority services.

The Markey-Eshoo bill has won support from net neutrality purists such as the advocacy group Free Press. But even a company as vocal in support of net neutrality as Google has hung back from an endorsement. And the Open Internet Coalition, an industry group formed to promote net neutrality, has only been able to come up with about one cheer: "We applaud Ed Markey and Anna Eshoo who have both been strong supporters of the open Internet, for introducing this legislation. Taken in conjunction with the important work of Subcommittee Chair Rick Boucher on this issue, the bill is an important first step towards the goal of keeping the Internet open and free for speech and innovation."

In an interview with The Hill newspaper Sept. 29, Boucher said he plans to press ahead with legislation of his own that would include authority for the most controversial part of Genachowski's proposal, the extension of net neutrality rules to wireless. Unlike the Markey-Eshoo approach, Boucher is trying to build consensus for his measure in negotiations with both net neutrality advocates and Internet service providers, no it is not likely to be a speedy process. "We’ll get agreement when we get agreement," he told The Hill. "Genachowski is moving forward. I don’t think it is essential to be done before the FCC’s plan is put forth."

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