GOP Rep Attacks FCC's Open Internet Stance

Capitol-Hill

Launching an attack on the Federal Communications Commission's open Internet order, a leading GOP lawmaker said at a congressional hearing that the new regulations would "entrench a one-size-fits-all regulatory approach to Net neutrality that circumvents Congress's authority."

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chair of the House Judiciary Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet subcommittee, called Tuesday's hearing the first step toward ensuring that Congress, and not the FCC, makes any rules regarding the Web. He added that the Internet "must be allowed to grow and innovate" without becoming mired in regulations.

Goodlatte said he was concerned that Internet service providers could engage in anti-consumer behavior; he had attempted to rein in ISPs with proposed legislation 10 years ago. But, he said, the FCC wasn't the appropriate body to regulate Web traffic.

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He specifically criticized the FCC for its "mission creep," saying that the agency shouldn't regulate the Web the way it regulates TV. "I hope that courts will rebuff them again" he added, referring to an appellate court decision last year vacating the FCC's decision to sanction Comcast for violating neutrality principles.

Last December, the FCC voted 3-2 to ban all broadband providers -- wireline and wireless -- from blocking sites or competing applications. The rules also ban wireline providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination. The rules contain an exception for reasonable network management practices.

Republican lawmakers have made nixing those rules a priority. Earlier this year, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) reintroduced a bill that would strip the FCC of authority to regulate the Internet. The measure -- which quickly garnered support from 60 other Congress members -- would ban the FCC from issuing "any regulations regarding the Internet or IP-enabled services."

Other GOP members have said they favor blocking the rules under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to strike down administrative agencies' decisions by a majority vote in the House and Senate. Democrats, however, stressed at the hearing that most Americans only have a choice of one or two Internet service providers. Net neutrality advocates argue that the dearth of providers leaves consumers without good options if their ISP starts blocking particular sites.

The committee also heard from three witnesses on Tuesday, including Brett Glass, who runs the wireless company Lariat, Net neutrality critic Larry Downes and neutrality proponent Gigi Sohn, executive director of advocacy group Public Knowledge.

Glass criticized the rules as vague because they don't define what would constitute reasonable network management. "This lays the groundwork for protracted, expensive legal wrangling that no small business can afford," he testified. He also argued that the neutrality regulations "address prospective harms rather than any actual problem."

Gigi Sohn disagreed with Glass's assertion that the regulations did not address actual problems. She pointed to AT&T's ban on Sling Media's iPhone app for watching home TV remotely. In 2009, AT&T restricted the SlingPlayer app to the Wi-Fi network, sparking complaints to the FCC that the carrier was discriminating against Sling. AT&T lifted the ban last year.

All of the FCC commissioners are expected to testify at a separate hearing on Wednesday about the new regulations.

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