Representatives of the GOP on Wednesday made their case for Net neutrality legislation. In hearings on Capitol Hill, lawmakers said they were aiming to provide certainty and avoid more legal challenges to Internet rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.
GOP-sponsored legislation could be headed toward a head-on collision with the Obama administration, which has called for Internet regulations that critics complain are reminiscent of the monopoly era.
Republicans expressed concerns that the Democrat-controlled FCC intends to release burdensome Net neutrality regulations that will face a lawsuit. They have introduced draft legislation that is intended to preserve openness to the Internet but falls short of some protections that consumer advocates and Democrats have lobbied for.
“We have a very important choice to make between letting three very smart and capable, but unelected people at the FCC use a statute written for another era to cobble together a regulatory scheme that undoubtedly will end up in years of costly litigation, providing no protections but much uncertainty,” said Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, “or we can do our job and craft a new law for this century through the open and transparent legislative process that we are beginning today.”
Walden chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and he made the comment in an opening statement during the subcommittee’s first hearing in the 114th Congress.
Fred Upton (R-Michigan), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said consumers and Internet providers need certainty. Twice in recent times, FCC Internet rules have been overturned by a federal appellate court in Washington, D.C.
“Our thoughtful solution provides a path forward that doesn’t involve the endless threat of litigation or the baggage of laws created for monopoly-era telephone service,” Walden said in an opening statement. “Only Congress can give the Commission the tools it needs to protect consumers and innovation in the Internet era and beyond.”
Under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the agency is expected to vote on Net neutrality rules in February. Wheeler is said to be considering subjecting broadband service to Title II regulation under the Communications Act of 1934. That idea doesn’t sit well with some large Internet providers and Republicans who contend Title II regulation is onerous and unnecessary to protect the openness of the Internet.
However, Democrats, consumer advocates and others have identified flaws in the draft legislation circulated by the GOP.
Paul Misener of Amazon.com, who appeared during the House hearing, was complimentary of the Net neutrality principles in the GOP’s draft. But he identified problem areas as well, expressing concern, for instance, that broadband providers would be able to prioritize their Internet content or traffic over others.
Republicans have proposed draft legislation that would prevent Internet providers for blocking lawful content or throttling – slowing down – traffic. Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, pointed out that the Net neutrality protections include an exception for “reasonable network management.”
He argued that such a management practice “should be viewed very suspiciously if, in practice, it undermines prohibitions of blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, etc., or if it tends to favor content or services offered by the broadband provider itself.”
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, refuted the view held by some Republicans that Congress needs to act before the FCC adopts Net neutrality regulations.
“It is more important to get this issue right than it is to get it done right now. The stakes are too high,” he said Wednesday in an opening statement during the Senate’s commerce committee hearing on Net neutrality. “The congressional prerogative to act does not cease merely because an agency has moved forward and done its job.”