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ICYMI: Congressional proposal offers Internet rules of the road

By House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman John Thune (R-SD)

For the past decade, a debate has raged in Washington and across the country about the best way to protect an open, unfettered Internet. The increasing use of smartphones and web-connected products and services make finding the right answer more important than ever.

The House of Representatives and the Senate, working together, have come up with a working proposal. We plan to begin a public discussion of it this week.

We need unambiguous rules of the road that protect Internet users and can help spur job creation and economic growth. The rules we propose would prohibit blocking and throttling (the selective slowing of data), and also ensure that Internet service providers could not charge a premium to prioritize content delivery.

The Federal Communications Commission has limited ability to establish the kind of legally sound, pro-innovation rules that consumers and developers need. One ill-fitting tool available is Title II of the Communications Act — a set of rules conceived in the Franklin D. Roosevelt era for public utilities. Policymakers, however, need updated tools written for the Internet age.

Using Title II could result in billions of dollars in higher government fees and taxes on consumers’ monthly broadband bills, according to a Progressive Policy Institute report. It also could extend new regulations to areas like mobile broadband without recognizing the unique challenges that mobile carriers face.

One near-certainty is that this approach will perpetuate years of litigation and even more uncertainty for consumers and job creators.

Seeking a better way forward, we are working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to establish clear, updated and reasonable rules of the digital road to protect an open Internet.

Our nation’s current technology and telecommunications laws were meant for an era of rotary telephones, brick-sized cellular phones and expensive long-distance service. By acting legislatively, we can set aside the baggage and limits of an antiquated legal framework and work with the Federal Communications Commission to ensure the Internet remains the beacon of freedom and connectivity that defines America in the 21st century.

As a legislative body, Congress has far more flexibility than the commission to narrowly tailor rules appropriate for today’s digital ecosystem. Congress can establish clear protections for consumers that can make sure innovators are free from gatekeeper interference, without affecting incentives for robust private-sector investment.

By updating our communications laws for today’s online world, Congress can ensure the continued growth of our digital economy while preventing harmful government overreach.

In the coming days, we plan to pursue a public process to draft and enact bipartisan legislation that would protect the open Internet. We hope FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the public will join Congress in working to build and enact a shared set of principles that will protect Internet users, promote innovation, encourage investment — and withstand legal challenge.

We have made this an early priority of this Congress, demonstrating we can come together on a bipartisan basis to protect the vitality of the Internet — now so indispensable to our economy and way of life. Enduring, long-term protections for our digital freedoms are something we should all support.


Read the column online via Reuters HERE.

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