Commentary

Republicans Blast FCC's 'Politically Motivated' Net Neutrality Rules

All five members of the Federal Communications Commission have been testifying this week at various Congressional hearings, where Republican lawmakers have spent hours complaining bitterly about the new net neutrality rules.

“I fear that the FCC has neglected other duties in favor of moving a politically motivated net neutrality decision,” Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in prepared remarks on Thursday morning at a hearing of the House communications and technology subcommittee.

Greg Walden (R-Ore.) blasted the FCC's “capitulation to the president's demands” -- referring to the agency's decision to reclassify broadband as a utility service.

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Last November, President Obama publicly urged the FCC to declare broadband a utility service. Walden and other opponents of the rules are now using Obama's statements as ammunition against the open Internet regulations, arguing that the rules were the result of undue influence.

Walden didn't just criticize the net neutrality order. He also said the FCC “oversteps its jurisdiction too regularly,” and cited the recent 3-2 decision to vacate state restrictions on municipal broadband as an example. “I cannot see how the Telecommunications Act could be read to gut the 10th Amendment and place the FCC in the position of deciding how states can spend tax dollars,” he stated.

Earlier this week, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) also scolded the three FCC Democrats who voted in favor of new broadband regulations: “Simply put, your actions jeopardize the open Internet that we are all seeking to protect,” he said.

“Rather than exercising regulatory humility, the three majority commissioners chose to take the most radical, polarizing, and partisan path possible,” Thune said. “Instead of working with me and my colleagues in the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, to find a consensus, the three of you chose an option that I believe will only increase political, regulatory, and legal uncertainty, which will ultimately hurt average Internet users.”

The new regulations prohibit broadband providers from blocking or degrading traffic, and from charging content companies to prioritize delivery of their material.

Thune and other Republicans have proposed legislation that would impose those same prohibitions, but the GOP-backed bill also would strip the FCC of authority to enact new rules relating to broadband service.

Meanwhile, net neutrality supporters are rallying to the FCC's defense. On Tuesday, Free Press and other advocacy groups urged lawmakers to join with “millions of digital equality champions and support the FCC's historic decision.”

Many digital rights groups have long said that net neutrality rules -- especially a ban on paid fast lanes -- will promote free speech online. Without that ban, the groups argue, companies that can afford to pay for faster delivery will have an advantage over nonprofits, startups and individual users who want to deliver their messages online.

“It is critical that the FCC have the legal authority to protect the online digital rights of communities that historically have been marginalized in our society,” the groups argue. “With such protections, our communities have been able to better participate in our democracy, tell our own stories, strive towards educational excellence and pursue economic success.”

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