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Democrats Introduce Bill To Restore Net Neutrality Rules

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WASHINGTON -- A group of House and Senate Democrats introduced legislation Monday that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to restore federal net neutrality rules struck down by a federal appeals court last month.

Under the Open Internet Preservation Act of 2014, the FCC could enforce net neutrality rules, which require telecom companies to treat all websites equally, until the agency comes up with a permanent solution to last month's Supreme Court ruling.

Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo, both of California, filed the bill in the House, while Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced companion legislation in the Senate. The House bill currently has seven additional cosponsors, all Democrats: Reps. Michael Capuano (Mass.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.), Mike Doyle (Penn.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Doris Matsui (Ariz.), Frank Pallone (N.J.), and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.). Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Ind.), Al Franken (Minn.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tom Udall (N.M.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.) have all signed on to Markey's bill in the Senate.

Democrats said they are hopeful they will shore up more support among their colleagues, although even some of the more progressive members of the party have aligned themselves with telecom companies in the past. The bill will also likely hit a roadblock with Republican lawmakers, who have tried multiple times to repeal the FCC's net neutrality rules.

House Republicans even weighed killing net neutrality in exchange for raising the debt ceiling last fall. Asked if the Waxman-Eshoo bill would even come up for a vote in the House, a GOP leadership aide simply responded, "No." A Senate Democratic leadership aide hadn't heard about the bill when reached for comment and was thus unable to indicate whether it would go anywhere.

Internet rights and free speech advocates are nonetheless hopeful that the FCC will use its authority to restore net neutrality, and have embarked on a campaign with Free Press urging the agency to do so. Advocates collected more than 1 million signatures in support of federal protections for net neutrality, and more than 85 groups have backed the cause, including the American Civil Liberties Union, MoveOn, the Sierra Club, Reddit and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"We’re calling on the FCC to reclassify broadband connections as 'telecommunications services,' a simple move that would allow it to pass robust net neutrality rules that would actually hold up in court," Free Press said in a statement. "Without net neutrality, the internet as we know it could be a relic of the past."

The FCC passed net neutrality rules in 2010, but its authority was challenged by Verizon in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Last month, the court ruled in favor of vacating the FCC's anti-discrimination and anti-blocking policies, arguing that the agency had overstepped its authority.

President Barack Obama also weighed in on the issue during a live video chat Friday. Obama reiterated his support for net neutrality and expressed confidence that the FCC would take action to preserve the open Internet.

"It's something that I've cared deeply about ever since I ran for office, in part because my own campaign was empowered by a free and open Internet and the ability for citizens all across the country to engage and create and find new ways and new tools to mobilize themselves," Obama said. "A lot of that couldn't have been done if there were a lot of commercial barriers and roadblocks and so I've been a strong supporter of net neutrality."

The president added that while it was important to respect the Supreme Court's decision initially, FCC commissioner Tom Wheeler, an Obama appointee, is looking at all of the options at the agency's disposal to evaluate and respond to the ruling.

"The one good piece of news coming out of this court opinion was that the court did confirm that the FCC can regulate this space -- they have authority," Obama said. "And the question now is how do they use that authority. If the old systems and rulings that they had in place were not effective in preserving net neutrality, do they have other tools that would stand up to court scrutiny that accomplishes the same goals?"

Read the full text of the bill below: Open Internet Preservation Act of 2014

Ryan Grim contributed reporting.

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