As ISPs Push Harder On Usage Caps, House Pushes Bill Preventing The FCC From Doing Anything About It
from the stripping-the-fcc-of-its-power-to-protect-consumers dept
In recent weeks, we’ve noted how ISPs are now moving beyond broadband usage caps and overage fees, and have begun charging users a $30-$35 premium if they want to avoid usage caps entirely. While the industry often dresses this up as everything from “improved flexibility and choice” to something necessary for the sake of fairness, it is, quite simply, an aggressive rate hike on uncompetitive markets. Users are being socked with dramatic new limits and fees — simply because most have no real competitors to flee to.
Entirely uncoincidentally, the House is now pushing for new legislation that would hamstring the FCC’s ability to regulate broadband rates. The “No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act” (pdf) is set to be debated this week in Congress, and would, according to a press release by the Energy and Commerce Committee, prevent the FCC from regulating rates charged for broadband Internet, “just as the administration promised when they reclassified access to the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act.”
Except according to a Medium post by attorney Harold Feld, the bill tries to use a special definition of “rate regulation” to ban the FCC from, well, doing much of anything:
“H.R. 2666?s language would protect broadband providers from any ?review? or ?enforcement? of their prices, and prevent the FCC from even ?declaring????let alone addressing???any broadband prices or fees as even ?unreasonable.? To make this even more clear, the bill prohibits the FCC from reviewing any prices, fees, or overages ?regardless of any other provision of law.? That goes way beyond the FCC?s traditional rate setting authority. ?Any other provision of law? includes the FCC?s mandate to promote competition and its consumer protection authority.”
So basically, the House, at the behest of large ISPs, is looking to further neuter the FCC. Not only so it can’t protect consumers from usage caps and price gouging, but to try and derail the FCC’s plan to expand consumer broadband privacy protections, or say, open up the cable set top box to additional competition.
It should probably be reiterated that while the FCC says it does have the authority to regulate some rates under Title II and its net neutrality rules (preventing “paid prioritization,” for example), the agency so far has shown no interest in really doing so. Whether it’s a $300 million national broadband map that fails to show broadband prices (at industry behest), to the agency’s continued blind eye to hidden fees, usage caps and zero rating, the FCC has made it abundantly clear that it finds a large amount of the broadband industry’s current price gouging just “creative experimentation.”
But while the FCC hasn’t done much about broadband prices directly, it has tried to shore up competition in the market so prices drop organically, including support for municipal broadband. Between this, the agency’s push for privacy rules, and net neutrality, the House has made it abundantly clear it plans to punish the FCC for standing up to giant ISPs like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast. As such, if it isn’t a series of pointless, FCC “fact finding” hearings, it’s yet another bill like this one that aims to tie the FCC’s arms securely behind its back.
As it stands, there remain just two serious ways to roll back net neutrality and the FCC’s decision to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II: win the election and gut the FCC and its decision, or win the ongoing lawsuits against the FCC (a ruling on that front is expected soon). The House likely knows this, but is apparently keen to try and earn its telecom campaign contributions by putting on one hell of a taxpayer-funded show.