2014 has seen a widescale battle for net neutrality, with the government and massive corporations clashing over just what a free and open internet will look like in the years to come. Much of that conversation has focused around the FCC reclassifying the internet as a Title II utility, which would let the commission impose more stringent rules and avoid things like paid "fast lane" access, but a new piece of Congressional legislation might seek to limit those controversial fast lanes without requiring reclassification.
According to The Washington Post, an upcoming bill backed by Republicans in Congress will establish a new way for the FCC to regulate internet access without reclassifying it as a utility — this bill would give the FCC the ability to prevent internet providers from prioritizing traffic, but the tradeoff would be that the FCC wouldn't be able to reclassify the internet under Title II. Republicans have opposed Title II as it is typically considered anti-business; this proposed "Title X" bill could essentially establish a middle ground between full reclassification and a world in which providers can charge for access to their internet pipes.
Given that there have already been threats that attempted Title II reclassification could get tied up in the courts for years, this might be an easier path to get around such a protracted battle. Additionally, this bill seems like it could provide a legal path to re-establishing the open internet rules that were struck down at the beginning of the year. Back in January, the FCC lost a case against Verizon — that loss meant that the FCC's basis for treating all internet traffic equally no longer had a legal leg to stand on.
The timeframe for this bill's introduction is unclear, but it would have to come soon — the FCC is expected to introduce its own new net neutrality legislation in February or March. If the Republicans can get their bill out first, it could find support from Democrats as well as President Obama, who've typically been against the concept of fast lanes. Indeed, President Obama recently came out strongly in favor of classifying the internet as a utility, but this potential bill could be effective enough to gain his support. However, if the FCC puts forth its own proposal before this planned Republican-backed bill is ready, it might struggle to find support from Democrats who will more likely align themselves with whatever the FCC proposes.