The legislation being hailed as an affront to net neutrality took a step forward in the House on April 15 against the wishes of consumer rights advocates and interest groups.
Despite the win for U.S. House of Representatives Bill 2666, a likely presidential veto presents a significant challenge for the bill’s supporters and their efforts to limit the Federal Communications Commission’s oversight of broadband Internet rates.
At first read, the so called No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act lays the groundwork to limit the FCC’s authority over broadband Internet rates, but opponents say the proposed rule would put the rights of consumers at risk.
According to Craig Spiezle, president and founder of the Online Trust Alliance, the legislation would have the potential to create what he calls a “privacy divide” in the larger telecommunications space.
If companies were to offer two sets of rates — one in which lower cost was tied to limited data privacy and another in which higher rate payers were protected — Spiezle said those with less ability to pay could be forced into accepting less in the way of online privacy protection.
For Spiezle, the right to information afforded by a reliable and affordable Internet connection has become not unlike the other utilities we rely on for daily life. He likens access to the Internet to the ability to turn on a faucet for clean water.
A coalition of at least 30 other organizations feel the same as Spiezle, not to mention the advisors to President Barrack Obama, who believe the president should veto the bill if it reaches his desk for a signature.
In a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, the group of consumer rights advocates and interest groups said the vaguely worded proposal could put consumer data at risk in exchange for an affordable connection.
“There is a difference between ensuring that consumers’ right to control their personal information is not contingent on income level, and rate regulation — setting the prices broadband providers may charge for service. The broad language in H.R. 2666 fails to recognize that difference, putting consumer privacy at risk,” the collective wrote on April 13.
The Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), who was also a signatory on the letter to House leaders, said in a statement on its website that the legislation would "undermine the authority of the FCC's ability to enforce key net neutrality protections."
“The problem is that the bill is worded in such a way that it could be used to keep the FCC from enforcing many important protections of users’ rights. At best, H.R. 2666 is a poorly written bill that brings a host of unintended consequences. At worst, it’s a calculated attempt to undermine the net neutrality principles we’ve all been fighting for,” EFF wrote.
The vote comes roughly a month after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a rulemaking notice regarding consumer privacy, transparency and choice.