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Congress to push laws against Net fees

Several members of Congress are planning new legislation that would officially bar federal regulators from imposing new charges on Internet access.

Several members of Congress are planning new legislation that would officially bar federal regulators from imposing new charges on Internet access.

In a letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman William Kennard today, a group of GOP legislators asked him to support legislation definitively barring his agency from regulating Internet fees.

"To end this uncertainty once and for all, and to stop the thousands of emails and phone calls from concerned Internet users," the group wrote, "we are writing to ask you to work with us on legislation?to make it clear that the FCC will not regulate the Internet or impose access charges on Internet service."

The issue has been a thorny one for Kennard and the rest of the Commission. Several times over the past few years, rumors have spread that the FCC or Congress was about to impose new per-minute charges on the Net, or a "modem tax."

The issue came to a head again several weeks ago, when a decision over regulation of ISPs calls stirred up the same talk again.

Several times over the following week, Kennard tried to dispel Net users' fears in a series of speeches and public statements.

"These rumors are nothing but At the crossroads scare tactics of the worst kind, preying on the fears of the American people and bringing uncertainty to this growing market," he said in a speech last week. "Let me say this as clearly as I can. As long as I am chairman of the FCC, we will not regulate the Internet."

As strong as that statement was, the group of GOP legislators--some of whom are leaders in an effort to scale back the FCC's regulatory powers--now want more assurances.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) will introduce a bill "as soon as next week" that would push the rollout of broadband services, and would prevent the FCC from tightly regulating these new access services, a spokeswoman said today. The details of the bill are still being worked out, she added.

On the House side, Congressional sources said that no specific bill was in the works, but that the legislators would likely use Kennard's response to the letter to guide them in drafting legislation.

Despite Kennard's denial of any intention to impose new Net regulations, the persistent rumors give the FCC's critics another opportunity to call for checks on the agency's power.

"Without such a clarification, there will always be a reason for Internet users to suspect that FCC regulation could be right around the corner," the legislators wrote.