Republican Leaders, Conservative Group Bash Obamas Net Neutrality Proposal

Some of the nation’s biggest Internet companies, the GOP and conservative groups on Monday wasted little time lambasting President Obama’s ideas for regulating the Internet, a daunting task that the Federal Communications Commission has been working on for years.

Obama favored reclassifying consumer broadband service under Title II regulation. That is a model the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) said is “designed for rotary telephones.”

“Since the dawn of commercial Internet access during the Clinton Administration,” IIA said, “light-touch regulation has guided its development and explosive growth.”

A trio of Republicans overseeing communications and technology issues in the House characterized the president’s statement on Net neutrality as “the latest in a long line of decisions that reveal this administration simply doesn’t know how to grow the economy.”

The conservative American Enterprise Institute blasted Obama for meddling in the affairs of the FCC.

“The Federal Communications Commission was created to be an independent regulatory agency, above and beyond the reach of crass politics,” said Jeffrey Eisenach, the director of AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy. “The White House’s decision to intervene in an ongoing rulemaking makes a mockery of any sense of independence or impartiality.”

AT&T and Verizon also found fault with the president’s ideas for protecting the Internet.

“Today’s announcement by the White House, if acted upon by the FCC, would be a mistake that will do tremendous harm to the Internet and to U.S. national interests,” said Jim Cicconi, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President, External & Legislative Affairs. “It is a complete reversal of a bipartisan policy that has been in place since the Clinton Administration — namely, to treat Internet access as an information service subject to light-touch regulation.”

Should the FCC adopt the president’s Net neutrality proposal, litigation is all but certain — marking the third time the FCC has found itself in court over its attempts to police the Internet. 

“Such a radical shift in the legal foundation for broadband Internet services will bring strong legal challenges from across the broadband industry,” said Walter McCormick, president of USTelecom, a trade association whose board of directors includes members from AT&T, CenturyLink and Verizon.

The Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., said Title II regulation isn’t necessary because a federal appeals court has noted the FCC has authority to protect consumers through Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

“By eschewing real compromise made possibly by the D.C. Circuit Court, and instead pursing a radical prescription of Title II, the FCC guarantees itself a drawn-out litigation battle with broadband providers,” the think tank said. “Other, more critical policies, such as broadband deployment in underserved areas and freeing up spectrum for wireless will sit on the back burner.”

Others including a trade association representing carriers that compete with the likes of AT&T and Verizon expressed support for Obama’s proposal.

“COMPTEL commends the President for his leadership on the need for strong, enforceable rules to protect the free and open Internet – rules that will prohibit Internet service providers from blocking access to or throttling content from websites that American consumers want to reach, and preserving interconnection norms and practices without tolls or other barriers to entry,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of CompTel. “This is the best means to safeguard competition and consumer choice over the Internet.”

Obama on Monday said the FCC should ban so-called paid prioritization agreements, which could give certain websites like Amazon and Netflix faster Internet access to consumers through negotiated agreements with ISPs. Critics of such agreements worry that they could endanger the openness of the Internet by creating fast and slow websites.

In a statement, Obama said the FCC also should prevent ISPs from blocking websites or services, ban them from “throttling” or slowing down content, and require certain disclosures under “transparency” rules that were upheld earlier this year by a federal appeals court.

Obama acknowledged that the FCC is an independent agency.

Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the consumer group Free Press, said the president’s proposal reflects the will of the American people.

“The president’s statement of support for Title II is the result of an unprecedented public outcry,’ he said. “More than 4 million Americans have contacted the FCC on the issue, with the overwhelming majority of comments urging the agency to create real Net Neutrality protections.”

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