Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman introduces legislation to restore net neutrality rules, gets early thumbs up from industry watcher


AURORA | New legislation from Aurora GOP Congressman Mike Coffman could write into law the “four corners” of net neutrality — which were overturned in a Federal Communications Commission decision last year.

The legislation, called the 21st Century Internet Act, would ban internet service providers from throttling, blocking and prioritizing interconnections, along with offering consumer protections.

“…Consumers expect unrestricted access to all, lawful online content and businesses need access to the online marketplace free of market-distorting barriers,” Coffman’s office wrote of the bill he introduced this week. “Unfortunately, the FCC has failed to provide the regulatory certainty that our economy needs by endlessly reclassifying broadband access between Titles One and Two under the Telecommunications Act.”

The move pits him against prevailing mood among other House Republicans, who have supported a hands off approach to the issue. The legislation is welcomed news to industry  insiders, however.

“It’s a welcomed shift from early Republican proposals that offered a watered-down net neutrality,” said Nathan Schneider, a scholar in residence in the Media Studies department at CU Boulder.

Prior to the FCC vote in December to overturn the 2015 net neutrality order, Coffman requested the commission delay the vote so that Congress could hold hearings. Coffman proded the agency on Twitter after not receiving a response to his letter.

In May, Ajit Pai, FCC board chairman, responded to Coffman. But the vote had already taken place. Pai defended the decision.

“While I strongly believe that the FCC took the appropriate action when it repealed the heavy-handed, utility-style Internet regulations adopted in 2015 during the Obama Administration, I also agree with your view that Congress should work toward a permanent legislative solution to address this issue,” Pai wrote. “In that regard, I applaud your efforts to develop such legislation as well as your commitment to a framework that embraces both light-touch regulation and protection for a free and open Internet.”

The two do agree, however, that Congress should take up the issue.

“The fight to keep the internet open belongs in Congress, not at the Federal Communications Commission,” Coffman said in a statement about the legislation. “The American people deserve to know that their elected officials, not unelected bureaucrats, are fighting for their interest. That fight begins with my bill, which will create an ‘internet constitution’ with the foundational elements of net neutrality.”

Schneider said Coffman’s legislation seems to be a major step in the right direction, and includes all the components important to preserve net neutrality.

Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman echoed those comments, saying in a released statement that “net neutrality is a consumer issue, not a partisan one.

“The internet industry remains outcome oriented to achieve strong, enforceable net neutrality rules through the courts, the FCC, and bipartisan legislation, including the CRA (Congressional Review Act),” Beckerman said.

As far as how much impact Coffman’s bill could have if passed is still uncertain. Since the FCC’s decision went into effect in June, internet users haven’t seen a major shift toward more costly or restricted use. Some expected internet service providers would begin selling internet use in bundles, or increasing the price to access bandwidth, making it more difficult for small businesses to access the internet. 

That hasn’t happened largely in part because providers have been hesitant to do so with legislation looking to combat those now-OK practices, Schneider said. Those efforts haven’t been absent from Congress, especially with the CRA legislation. Coffman simultaneously signed a discharge petition that with enough signatures would force the legislation to the House floor — it approved overturning the FCC ruling.

Coffman’s office said the congressman talked with several stakeholders before drafting the bill, including constituents and the small business community, which employs nearly half of the workforce in Colorado, according to U.S. Small Business Administration.

Schneider said net neutrality is an issue as important to small businesses, like the ones in  Aurora, as it is to tech giants like Google, which has a Boulder campus. So it’s really not so surprising the bill came from a member of the Colorado congressional delegation.