Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, told The Daily Caller that the Federal Communications Commission’s “net neutrality” rules demonstrate a “fundamental disregard of the Constitution.” Hutchison said the rules are an attempt by the Obama administration to regulate the “one economic engine in America that is thriving.”
Net neutrality regulation demands that Internet service providers (ISP) cannot engage in network traffic data management that would favor their own products and content over others. Supporters of the principle argue that content should be allowed to freely flow without restriction, as it is a matter of free expression. They say that Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have too much power and would use it to their advantage, to the detriment of consumers.
Opponents argue that not only is the practice of blocking and censoring Internet content by ISPs unlikely, there is no precedent for it. While Comcast was found to be regulating network traffic of users engaged in peer-to-peer file sharing through Bit Torrent, the D.C. courts found that the Federal Communications Commission did not possess the legal authority to regulate ISPs. Opponents of net neutrality, like Hutchison, say that the Internet is a success because regulations such as net neutrality have not existed in the past to hamper economic investment and innovation.
“We have one economic engine in America that is thriving and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, and that’s the Internet. And if you start putting a gateway that you have to pass through before you can give a new product or something innovative, you’re going to really put a blanket on the creativity that has spurned so much success,” Hutchison said in an exclusive interview with TheDC on Capitol Hill. “And this is just the beginning — it’s just the nose under the tent, and we’re trying to keep the Internet unfettered and free and I have to say, it’s kind of a symbol of this administration to want to overregulate everything.”
President Barack Obama campaigned on net neutrality and placed a close friend, Julius Genachowski, as head of the commission to enact the policy.
“I think it’s a fundamental disregard of the Constitution, and that is that you have three separate and equal branches of government,” Hutchison continued. “Congress only passes laws, the president obviously signs or doesn’t, but you can’t have a regulatory body that all of a sudden becomes legislative and becomes an authority of their own. They only have what Congress gives them and if Congress doesn’t stand up for its part of the balance of powers, then the president becomes more and more powerful, which is what the founders were trying to prevent.”
When the FCC voted to pass the order in December 2010, the vote was split along party lines: three Democrats, and two Republicans. GOP Commissioner Robert McDowell argued in his dissent that not only does Congress make law — and not the commission — but that there were sufficient consumer protections within existing law designed to prevent the scenarios that concern supporters of net neutrality.
The FCC’s “Open Internet” rules took effect on November 20, 2011. The FCC was quickly sued by “media reform” activist group Free Press because the rules were not considered strong enough, and by Verizon on the grounds that the commission does not possess the legal authority to regulate the Internet. The fate of the current FCC net neutrality regulation rests with the D.C. circuit.
Josh Peterson contributed to this report.