Prompted by expressions of ‘outrage’ and concern from ‘thousands of constituents and industry experts’ regarding ‘outrageous’ fee increases proposed by broadband Internet service providers, Congressman Eric Massa (D-NY) introduced the (HR 2902).

Representing western New York’s 22nd District, Massa initially got involved in the issue back in April after Time Warner Cable announced that it would begin charging customers in Rochester based on bandwidth usage. A group of medical doctors contacted Rep. Massa and told him they would be forced to raise patients’ rates if Time Warner carried through and did so.

Time Warner’s new rate schedule could potentially triple the doctors and other customers’ Internet costs from $50 to $150 per month, they complained, saying that it was predatory price gouging based on limited competition.

In what’s been hailed in the media as a “huge consumer victory,” Time Warner backed off the new rates and metered bandwidth pricing plan in Rochester and two of three other markets. The company stated that a trial in Beaumont, Texas may continue.

Massa responded by drafting the Broadband Internet Fairness Act, which he says will “prevent the monopolistic rate increased of broadband companies by promoting the interests of broadband customers.”

Among its key points, the bill would:

  • Require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to submit plans to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in consultation with the FCC if they plan to move to a usage-based plan
  • Prohibit volume usage plans if the FTC determines that these plans are imposing rates, terms, and conditions that are unreasonable or discriminatory
  • Set up public hearings for plans submitted to the FTC for public review and input
  • Only affects ISPs with 2 million or more subscribers
  • Imposes penalties for broadband ISPs that ignore these rules

Needless to say, broadband carriers were underwhelmed with the proposal. “Consumption-based billing plans will give consumers the ultimate control over how much they spend each month for their Internet access. Rep. Massa’s bill would have a chilling effect on broadband operators offering these types of consumer-friendly options,” American Cable Association president and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.

We doubt this legislation has a chance of passing the full Congress. The broadband industry lobby is just salivating at the thought of derailing this bill. But the process will contribute to the ongoing and controversial debate surrrounding bandwidth metering.

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