Originally published: March 9, 2011
Last updated: March 11, 2011 - 4:52pm
The House Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing on House Joint Resolution 37, an effort to disallow the Federal Communications Commission's new network neutrality/Open Internet regulations.
Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) introduced the resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which provides Congress with an expedited process to nullify agency rules. The resolution only requires a simple majority in each chamber, and is filibuster proof in the Senate. Because the form of the resolution is provided for in statute, it is not subject to amendment. Chairman Walden said the FCC is attempting to regulate the Internet without statutory authority to do so: "it’s important to realize that the FCC’s underlying theory of authority would allow the commission to regulate any interstate communication service on barely more than a whim and without any additional input from Congress. I do not want to cede such authority to the FCC."
House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) urged his colleagues to nullify the FCC’s attempt to regulate the Internet. He said, "If the FCC had taken this approach for the last year, we might not have needed this resolution today. The reality is, if the FCC was truly weighing the costs and benefits of its actions, the agency would not be attempting to regulate the Internet." He noted that there is no crisis warranting the regulations -- the Internet is open, it is not broken, and the market has not failed. He went on to say that if the FCC's logic was followed "the agency would ultimately be regulating Google and any number of other Internet companies."
Democrats called Republican efforts to overturn the FCC's net neutrality rules destructive and said the GOP-backed resolution of disapproval isn't based on facts.
Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) said that Justice Department officials do not believe they have the authority to enforce network neutrality principles under antitrust law. "According to DoJ, favoring websites that pay high fees and degrading websites that don't is perfectly legal under the antitrust laws as long as the phone or cable company isn't in direct competition with the websites being degraded," Rep Waxman said. Network neutrality opponents often argue that antitrust laws make it unnecessary to have regulations enforced by the FCC. The House Judiciary Committee explored the issue this year. Intellectual Property subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said he is considering legislation to tweak antirust law to address net neutrality concerns.
Ranking subcommittee member Anna Eshoo (D-CA), whose district includes numerous content and app companies pushing for network neutrality regulations, also pointed out that stakeholders like the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and AT&T do not see the regulations as menacing. She also pointed to what she said was a flood of letters from religious leaders, consumer groups and high tech associations opposing the resolution to block the regulations. She warned that the resolution would create uncertainty about FCC authority beyond the order itself, and could affect its ability to promote pubic safety and protect against online privacy violations and piracy. She said the rules were necessary to prevent blocking access and unreasonable discrimination and consumers and businesses being told what sources of content they can access.
Robin Chase, founder and former CEO of Zipcar said that the FCC's application of different rules to wireless and wired broadband was "nonsense," and that Congress should strengthen the FCC's network neutrality rules, not try to invalidate them.
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