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House Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality

The Hill logo The Hill 5/24/2019 Emily Birnbaum
Ajit Pai wearing a suit and tie: House Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality © Greg Nash House Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality

More than 40 House Democrats are seeking to establish a bipartisan working group to address net neutrality, saying the effort to reinstate the Obama-era rules is dead on arrival in the Senate.

The 47 Democrats backing the effort voted for the Save the Internet Act, which passed the House by a 232-190 vote mostly along party lines last month. But now they're looking to sit down with Republicans in order to work up "bipartisan, bicameral legislation that can be signed into law."

"We recognize that this legislation is unlikely to become law, or pass through the Senate, in its current form," they wrote in a letter to top Democrats. "If that proves true, consumers will be left without enforceable net neutrality protections while partisan conflict continues. We believe this result is unacceptable and unnecessary."

The Save the Internet Act would reinstate net neutrality rules prohibiting internet service providers from interfering with web traffic. But the bill is a non-starter for many Republicans, as it opens up the broadband industry to stringent regulations enforced by the Federal Communications Commission that the GOP has long opposed.

Under the Democrats' bill, the broadband industry would be classified as a "communications service" under Title II of the Communications Act - a designation that supporters say is vital to ensuring net neutrality is properly enforced and detractors say increases federal red tape.

The letter from the Democrats is addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). The lawmakers' offices did not respond to The Hill's requests for comment.

Neither did the office of Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who helped spearhead the efforts to pass the Save the Internet Act this year. Doyle heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee's communications subcommittee.

A spokesperson for the House Energy and Commerce Committee told The Hill in a statement: "There is already a working group established; it's called the Energy and Commerce Committee."

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who is leading the effort alongside Rep. Josh Gottheimer, in a statement to The Hill said, "Of course I intend to continue to work with my colleagues on the Committee. The bottom line is that this complex problem requires a bipartisan solution."

The effort to create a bipartisan working group has already elicited aggressive pushback from net neutrality advocates, who say it seems like an effort to water down any pro-net neutrality legislation.

"Zero net neutrality advocacy groups support the creation of such a working group - the only purpose of this letter is to amplify the cable industry's narrative and build support for their end goal, which is to pass weak, loophole-filled legislation that claims to save net neutrality while permanently undermining it," digital rights group Fight for the Future wrote in a Medium post this week.

The group accused many of the Democrats who have signed on to the proposal of having a "track record of siding with big cable interests over their constituents," encouraging critics of the effort to call those lawmakers and press them to reject the group.

Top GOP members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday co-signed the effort to create a working group. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the committee's ranking member, alongside the leading Republicans on the committee's communications and consumer protection subcommittees, said they applaud the effort.

"We have long said that a permanent, bipartisan legislative solution produced in good faith with our Democratic colleagues is the only way to protect consumers, innovation, and an open internet," Walden, along with Reps. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.), said in the statement. "We welcome our colleagues' engagement, and hope that a bipartisan working group can be a successful incubator for true bipartisan net neutrality legislation."

The letter from Democrats does not lay out specific issues they would be willing to compromise on.

Updated at 2:35 p.m.

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