As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prepares to vote next week on a set of rules that will give the federal government the power to regulate news and information content online, members of Congress are stepping up their opposition. The takeaway? Almost everyone opposes what has been termed “net neutrality” except, as the December 21 vote is expected to show, the majority of the FCC’s five commissioners.
The FCC’s proposed regulatory framework bans internet service providers from blocking or inhibiting consumer access to content. Put simply: internet companies like Verizon and Comcast will not be allowed to operate one website on a slower or faster bandwidth than any other.
The fear behind the push for the new regulations is that Verizon, for example, could play favorites by making a liberal-leaning site load slower than a conservative one. But once the technical and complex lexicon of net neutrality is stripped away, it appears the proposed rules have little to no support from the Right, and waning support from liberals who view them as being too weak.
On Thursday, Republican Representative Mike Rogers, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, released a statement regarding FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s proposed plan.
“I am disappointed Chairman Genachowski has decided to advance sweeping regulations that will for the time ever give the federal government control over all aspects of the Internet,” said Rogers. “The proposed rule – being considered just days before Christmas – gives Congress and the public little time to review a regulation that will ultimately impact one-sixth of the nation’s economy.”
That same day, Rogers sent a letter to Genachowski, warning him that the adoption of net neutrality directly goes against the will of Congress and the courts.
“I am troubled by your indifference to the D.C. Circuit Court’s April ruling and your defiance of the bipartisan will of Congress by classifying Internet regulation as permissible under the communications Act and therefore under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission,” wrote Rogers in the letter.
“The FCC’s bold disregard of the law and the facts is troublesome,” he added.
On Wednesday, a group of 29 Republican Senators sent their own letter to Chairman Genachowski, warning him that if the FCC proceeds to vote for the provisions, they will actively work to repeal them in the next Congress. The letter’s signers, including Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Jon Kyl of Arizona, and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, also questioned the agency’s authority.
“You and the Commission’s general counsel have admitted in published statements that the legal justification for imposing these new regulations is questionable and ‘has a serious risk of failure in court,’” the letter said.
The letter went on to say, “It is very clear that Congress has not granted the Commission the specific statutory authority to do what you are proposing. Whether and how the Internet should be regulated is something that America’s elected representatives in Congress, not the Commission, should determine.”
Even Chairman-elect of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton, joined in the net-neutrality opposition, calling on the FCC to “cease and desist” pushing forward.
But it’s not just Republicans opposing the plan. Some net neutrality advocates decided to withhold their support earlier this week in a meeting with one of the FCC’s Democratic Commissioners, Michael Copps. Present for the meeting included representatives from companies like Skype, Netflix, Dish Network, and Amazon.
The crux of their complaints was that the proposed rules differed too much from draft legislation by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, and the FCC’s regulatory history “does not support the adoption of Chairman Waxman’s framework.”
And one FCC Chairman, Republican Meredith Baker, has been outspoken in her opposition to net neutrality – more recently in a speech delivered earlier this month. First citing concerns over the lack of authority to proceed with the regulations, Baker went on to say net neutrality is “the wrong policy to drive more investment, jobs, and opportunity into our Internet economy.”
Baker then candidly mocked the argument that net neutrality is needed for an “open internet.”
“There is no crisis facing the Open Internet that we need to resolve this month, said Baker. “We can retire this talking point. The Internet was open when the term Net Neutrality was coined in 2002, and it is open today…we have looked everywhere for problems to solve, and we are still left with the same handful of isolated incidents to try to justify sweeping industry-wide rules.”
If the FCC votes for Genachowski’s plan on December 21, net neutrality regulations will have the force of law, despite the will of Congress, or last spring’s Supreme Court ruling that the agency does not have the authority to regulate the internet like it does television or radio networks. The only way it will be overturned is if Congress actively seeks to repeal the regulations next year.