Net Neutrality: McCain Moves Swiftly to Curtail FCC

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., thinks the FCC has “gone rogue” and is seeking to block the agency from regulating net neutrality.

The self-declared maverick stayed on one side of the aisle Thursday when he introduced the Internet Freedom Act of 2009, proposed legislation that would bar the FCC from enacting rules to keep broadband providers from restricting or slowing Internet traffic.

McCain presented the bill on the same day the FCC voted to start the process of turning six net neutrality principles into law. He called the agency’s move “onerous” and a “government takeover of the Internet.” McCain particularly objected to the intent to apply net neutrality rules to mobile operators.

“The wireless industry exploded over the past 20 years due to limited government regulation,” he said in a press release. “Meanwhile,” he added, “wired telephones and networks have become a slow dying breed as they are mired in state and federal regulations, universal service contribution requirements and limitations on use.”

Of note is McCain’s swift move to battle the FCC’s net neutrality vote. Recall that, during last year’s presidential campaign, McCain hired former eBay CEO Meg Whitman to serve as his technology adviser. eBay stands behind net neutrality, yet McCain apparently ignored Whitman’s stance on the issue when, prompted by political mudslinging, he unveiled a net neutrality policy that reflected the general one in place at the FCC. Why? Financial contributions could answer the question.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, a group that tracks “private influence on public policy,” McCain ranks as the top recipient of telecom lobbying money, from the 2008 campaign to the present. The amount so far totals $894,379, the Sunlight Foundation found. Key donors include AT&T Inc., the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc.

There’s no doubt each of those entities will lobby hard as the FCC over the next three months collects comments on the net neutrality proposal. Much of that lobbying surely will happen in Congress as service providers and their associations look to certain lawmakers to curtail the FCC’s authority. One of the legislators with a sympathetic ear could be Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. She’s the ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the communications industry, and she has remained steadfast in her opposition to government Internet oversight.

In a statement, Hutchison said she’ll be “closely reviewing” the FCC verbiage and industry and public feedback. She said she is especially concerned about the impact of net neutrality rules on rural providers, calling the companies a “critical part” of improving broadband access nationwide.

Hutchison did not commit to supporting McCain’s legislation; she did say, though, that she will evaluate whether “legislative efforts … are an appropriate course of action.”

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