Bipartisan Bill on Net Neutrality May Emerge in Congress

Rick Boucher knows as well as anybody that net neutrality is the type of complex technology topic that Congress finds difficult to handle even when Democrats and Republicans are getting along.

But the former 14-term House member, a longtime player on Internet policy who now heads a telecommunications industry trade group, is optimistic that the controversial Internet issue could be a surprising source of compromise in a time of partisan gridlock.

"Each side can give the other the thing it wants the most," Boucher, a well-respected Democrat who is honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance. "This is an optimal moment to legislate."

Both political parties have a major reason to seek a permanent legislative solution after the Federal Communications Commission last month enacted tough new regulations for online traffic.

Leading Republicans want to limit the broad authority the FCC asserted to police broadband after classifying it as a more highly regulated utility-like service under Title 2 of the Communications Act.

And to do that, the GOP lawmakers reversed long-standing opposition to the need for net neutrality regulations and have proposed codifying the meat of the FCC's order: prohibitions on Internet service providers from blocking, slowing or selling priority delivery of content to consumers.

Key Democrats said they're willing to work on a bill that could limit the FCC's powers because enshrining net neutrality regulations into law would avoid the fear that they could be overturned by federal judges -- which happened twice before -- or a future Republican-led FCC.

"Democrats would like to lock net neutrality into a litigation-proof statute. And Republicans really want to eliminate Title 2 [authority]. So that's a good starting point," said Paul Gallant, a telecommunications policy analyst with Guggenheim Securities in Washington.

Congressional hearings last week showed the potential for a bipartisan deal, as well as the passions of both sides, which...

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