The U.S. Federal Communications Commission should expand network neutrality rules to providers of broadband service to schools, libraries and other community institutions when it votes on new regulations next week, three Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives said.
Representatives Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Doris Matsui and Anna Eshoo, both of California, sent a letter to the FCC on Friday, saying it's "critically important" that schools, colleges and libraries are protected by net neutrality rules.
Their letter comes after the American Library Association, the Association of Research Libraries and Educause raised concerns earlier this week that net neutrality rules proposed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski would apply to providers of residential broadband services and not to so-called community anchor institutions.
"Leaving these critical institutions out of the proposal will create a gaping hole in the FCC's net neutrality safeguards," said the letter. "Many community anchor institutions purchase standard access to the public Internet from broadband Internet service providers and simply cannot and do not negotiate their own terms or conditions unlike large corporations ..."
In many communities, libraries are the only place for residents to get free Internet access, the letter added.
The FCC is scheduled to vote on Genachowski's proposal on Tuesday. Matsui, Eshoo and Markey said they applaud the FCC's decision to move forward with net neutrality rules.
Several other lawmakers have blasted Genachowski for pushing the rules forward, however.
Genachowski's proposal is in "direct contradiction" to testimony he made in March before a House committee, said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican. Genachowski said then he was not in favor of regulating the Internet.
FCC officials have disputed that new net neutrality rules would amount to Internet regulation.
Genachowski has called for the FCC to act on formal rules after an April U.S. appeals court decision striking down the FCC's attempt to enforce informal net neutrality principles in a case involving Comcast's slowing of peer-to-peer traffic.
"The FCC is not a legislating body," Rogers wrote in a Thursday letter to Genachowski. "If this vote is successful, I intend to work with my colleagues to immediately move to enact a disapproval resolution ... as well as subpoena the commission to a hearing examining your reasoning for ignoring the D.C. Circuit Court."
Also this week, Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, and 28 other GOP senators sent a letter to Genachowski urging the FCC to abandon the net neutrality rules.
"The Internet has flourished over the last 20 years because of, not despite, a lack of government control and involvement," the letter said. "If the commission does adopt your plan to impose new regulations on the Internet, the cost of that action will be measured in investments forgone, innovations stifled, and most importantly, jobs lost. With America's economy in such a fragile state, the last thing the government needs to do is burden the private sector with more ill-advised regulatory red tape."
Genachowski first proposed that the FCC reclassify broadband as a regulated, common-carrier service in order to get around the limits of the court order, but his latest proposal would create net neutrality rules without reclassification. Several longtime advocates for net neutrality rules have criticized that proposal, saying it doesn't provide strong protections for mobile broadband users and it contains several loopholes for broadband providers.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.