Congressman Mike Doyle TIGER grant
Congressman Mike Doyle knows what it takes to bring "game-changer" grants to Pittsburgh. This is the third in his district. Photo courtesy Doyle for Congress.

Mike Doyle (PA-18) may well be entering the most pivotal and influential phase of his long career in Congress.

This January, the House Democrats elevated Doyle to the chair of the Subcommittee on Communications & Technology within the House Committee on Energy & Commerce.

With broad legislative authority over mass media and telecommunications, the position puts Doyle at the forefront of some of the most heated and consequential policy debates that will draw the nation’s attention over the next several years.

New laws to protect data privacy? Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up big tech? Doyle personally has the power to put them on the committee’s agenda.

First up: net neutrality.

On March 6, Doyle introduced the Save the Internet Act of 2019 (H.R. 1644), a bill aimed at restoring net neutrality to the nation’s broadband networks and enhancing the power of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Yesterday, prior to today’s initial committee hearing on the language of the act, Doyle spoke to NEXTpittsburgh about the contents of the bill, and why it’s critical to preserving a free and open internet.

The phrase “net neutrality” refers to the simple idea that internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all information equally, without blocking or favoring specific sites and services. Internet access, the philosophy goes, has become an essential public utility that we all deserve the chance to access.

Doyle endorses this assessment: “I believe access is a right,” he says. “We shouldn’t be able to block any group of people from access to the internet.”

In February of 2015, the Obama-era FCC reclassified broadband internet as a common carrier, effectively making net neutrality the law of the land. But the current commission, led by former Verizon lobbyist Ajit Pai, voted to rescind this classification in December of 2017.

According to Doyle, his bill will not only restore net neutrality protections but will also reaffirm the power and authority of the FCC.

Today, nobody is enforcing any rules. There’s no cop on the beat,” Doyle explains. “Chairman Ajit Pai, when he repealed the open internet order, basically just abdicated the FCC’s authority to regulate the ISPs.”

Doyle emphasizes that “you need a cop on the beat. These rules wouldn’t have been put into place if there was never this kind of behavior on the part of ISPs. We didn’t just dream all this up.”

The bill also adds funding to smaller programs that have been cut off by the current FCC regime, such as rural broadband networks and internet services for the poor.

“We want that gatekeeper to be neutral,” says Doyle. “Not advantaging someone’s content over someone else’s, and not letting some consumers get through quicker than others.”

Concerns over privileged content are even more prevalent today than when the original rules were put in place, as a recent spate of mergers and corporate consolidations have left a handful of internet service providers in control of massive media and entertainment empires.

Along with net neutrality guarantees, the bill comes with enhanced powers for the regulators to quickly identify and take action against any “unjust or reasonable” actions that cut against the ethos of an open internet.

Doyle says an empowered FCC is key, given the rapid pace of innovation in telecommunications.

“Technology is going to change a lot quicker than the government can write laws,” says the Congressman. “You need to give them the flexibility to adapt and change with the technology.”

If all goes according to plan, Doyle estimates that the bill will be out of his committee and ready for a vote on the floor of the House by the end of April.

As with other efforts to pass similar protections, Doyle’s bill has been met with fierce resistance from Republicans in Congress. However, recent polling consistently reports that a bipartisan majority of Americans supports net neutrality.

“The opponents are really just a handful of companies,” says Doyle. “Not the American people.”

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.