"It's inevitable that net neutrality is going to be a part of this," a Democratic aide predicted.
A Republican aide for the House Energy and Commerce Committee said lawmakers are still in the information-gathering stage and that it's too early talk about whether the bill will address any particular issue.
The Communications Act, first enacted in 1934, created the FCC and outlined the agency's powers. It's the foundational law for regulation of every company that transmits information over wires or airwaves. That now includes cable, satellite, broadcast TV, radio, cell phones, landline phones, and Internet service.
Overhauling the act is a top priority for Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who is expected to become chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. His counterparts in the House, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, have already started to collect feedback from industry and advocacy groups on how they should rewrite the law.
Nearly everyone agrees that the Communications Act is outdated. The law was last updated in 1996, when most people were still accessing the Internet on dial-up connections and before Google even existed.
But rewriting the law will be no easy task. Tweaking one provision might boost some industries while costing others billions of dollars. Some of the nation's biggest and most powerful corporations are going to be ready to fight for their own interests.
Lawmakers are expected to review the FCC's subsidy programs for rural and poor consumers, its authority over telecom mergers, its management of the nation's airwaves, and the various regulatory perks and obligations that local broadcast TV stations have.
But few issues are as politically explosive as net neutrality. Supporters of net neutrality argue that government rules are necessary to preserve the Internet as an "open" platform where all traffic is treated equally. They want to prevent Internet service providers like Comcast from blocking websites or favoring some sites over others.
Republicans view net neutrality as a government takeover of the Internet. They warn that restrictive regulations will only stifle investment in broadband networks and prevent innovative new business models.
The FCC first enacted net-neutrality rules in 2010, but a federal court struck them down earlier this year. The FCC under Chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to enact new rules as soon as next month.
FCC officials are seriously considering whether to invoke the agency's sweeping powers under Title II of the Communications Act, which the agency already uses to regulate phone companies. Broadband providers and Republicans warn the section would turn the Internet into a public utility, crushing the industry under heavy-handed regulation. But net-neutrality advocates say Title II is the only way to enact real protections.