Senator Introduces Fake Net Neutrality Bill Championed By ISPs Then Pretends He's Fighting Against Them

The bill, introduced by Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, mirrors legislation that has been pushed in the House that would enshrine the ability for ISPs to screw you over.

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Mar 7 2018, 9:37pm

Image: Jonathan Bachman/Getty

ISPs continue to push for fake net neutrality legislation in hopes of preventing tougher state or federal rules from taking root.

The FCC’s fall repeal of net neutrality doesn’t rest on particularly sound legal footing. By law, the FCC has to prove that the broadband market changed so dramatically to warrant such a severe reversal of popular policies implemented just a few years ago, something it’ll have a hard time accomplishing given the overwhelming bipartisan public support for the rules.

The agency will also have to account for the shady behavior that occurred during the agency proceeding, including all of the dead people that mysteriously voiced their support for the FCC’s blatant handout to one of the least-competitive industries in America.

Understandably fearing that the FCC’s effort might not survive a court challenge by Mozilla, consumer groups, state attorney generals, and others, ISPs have a backup plan. They’ve convinced ISP-loyal lawmakers like Marsha Blackburn to support fake net neutrality legislation that could actually make the problem worse.

Blackburn’s misleadingly-named Open Internet Preservation Act, introduced in the House last fall, bans behaviors that ISPs weren’t really interested in anyway, such as the outright blocking of certain websites or services. But it intentionally ignores trouble areas where anti-competitive ISP behavior is now actually occurring, such as usage caps, overage fees, zero rating, and the gaming of network interconnection points.

Blackburn, a major recipient of ISP lobbying cash, claims her legislation would hold ISPs accountable, but the intention is more nefarious. The real goal of such bills is to pre-empt the tougher net neutrality rules now taking root across more than half the states in the nation.

In a statement, Kennedy pretended that his bill would somehow upset large ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.

Her bill would also prevent the passage of tough rules later by a future FCC or Congress less beholden to the every whim of entrenched broadband monopolies. As an added bonus, it would supplant the FCC’s current, 2015 rules should they withstand legal challenge this spring.

As the FCC’s court battle grows closer and ISP policy folk get more nervous about their chances of success, the push for such legislation is only accelerating.

Case in point, Republican Louisiana Senator John Kennedy this week unveiled his own companion net neutrality bill in the Senate. Kennedy’s legislation mirrors Blackburn’s House version, banning the most heavy-handed net neutrality abuses (which ISPs don't want to do anyway), while ignoring the more elaborate examples of anti-competitive ISP behavior.

In a statement, Kennedy pretended that his bill would somehow upset large ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.

“Some cable companies and content providers aren’t going to be happy with this bill because it prohibits them from blocking and throttling web content,” said the Senator. “They won’t be able to micromanage your web surfing or punish you for downloading 50 movies each month.”

But Kennedy’s bill is intentionally full of loopholes. The bill does nothing to thwart anti-competitive abuse of usage caps or zero rating. And his bill doesn’t ban behaviors like paid prioritization, which would allow an ISP to let companies with the deepest pocket get priority on the network, distorting the traditional level internet playing field.

Much like Blackburn did, Kennedy tries to argue that the bill is the best stopgap solution available to Americans, and that anybody that doesn’t support a bill very likely ghost-written by ISP lobbyists aren’t “serious” about protecting the open internet.

"The fact that he thinks his constituents would be fooled by this trojan horse legislation is insulting"

“This bill strikes a compromise that benefits the consumer,” Kennedy proclaimed. “If the Democrats are serious about this issue and finding a permanent solution, then they should come to the table and work with me and Rep. Blackburn on these bills. Does this bill resolve every issue in the net neutrality debate? No, it doesn’t. It's not a silver bullet. But it's a good start.”

Unfortunately for ISPs, support for these legislative efforts has been tepid at best. Democrats aren’t buying the head fake, instead focusing their efforts on reversing the FCC repeal via the Congressional Review Act, an effort that faces a steep uphill climb, but would require net neutrality opponents to clearly illustrate their disdain for the public ahead of the looming midterms.

Consumer groups like Fight For the Future were quick to criticize Kennedy’s solution as a trojan horse proposal ghost-written by incumbent telecom monopolies.

“Louisiana residents, small businesses, and Internet users from across the political spectrum asked Senator Kennedy to be a hero,” said Fight For the Future deputy director Evan Greer. “Instead, he stabbed them in the back.”

“Honestly, the Senator should resign over this,” said Greer. “The fact that he thinks his constituents would be fooled by this trojan horse legislation is insulting. If Senator Kennedy cared one iota about protecting businesses and residents in his state, he would support the Congressional Review Act resolutions to restore net neutrality rules, rather than offering a bill that was basically written by Comcast’s lobbyists, and that has no chance of passing anyway.”

In short, the broadband industry goal here isn’t a compromise so much as it is an active attempt to prevent real protections, especially on the state level. And as ISP lobbyists grow increasingly nervous about the FCC’s chance in court, you can expect the phony drumbeat for this kind of disingenuous net neutrality “solution” to only grow.