GOP Opposition to FCC Net Neutrality Plan Mounts

By Kenneth Corbin | Dec 17, 2010 | Print this Page
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Republican lawmakers are ratcheting up their opposition to the Federal Communications Commission's plan to vote on net neutrality rules at its meeting next week, warning against what they see as an unwarranted regulatory overreach.

Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who will chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the next session of Congress, called on FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to release the text of the order, and to delay the vote to allow the public to comment.

"Your proposal to adopt network neutrality rules is likely the most controversial item the FCC has had before it in at least a decade," Upton wrote in a letter to Genachowski. "It holds huge implications for the future of the Internet, investment, innovation and jobs."

Upton's letter was signed by Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.), who will serve as the chairman and vice chairman of the Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, respectively.

The letter, delivered on Thursday, comes as the latest salvo in the GOP opposition to Genachowski's net neutrality proposal. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison yesterday filed an amendment that would bar the FCC from using any of its appropriated funding to enforce the order, a measure that would make it unlawful for the agency "to adopt, implement, or otherwise litigate any network neutrality based rules, protocols, or standards."

"The FCC chairman's attempt to impose new government regulations on the Internet is unnecessary government overreach that will stifle future innovation," Hutchison, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

Hutchison was also one of 29 Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who signed a letter delivered to Chairman Genachowski on Wednesday asking him to abandon his proposal.

"The Internet as an open platform for innovation is not an aspiration, it is a reality -- the United States does not need new burdensome regulations to make it so," they wrote. "This is an unjustified and unnecessary expansion of government control over private enterprise."

An FCC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the various lawmakers' protests.

The flurry of opposition comes as Genachowski and his staff are finalizing the order, which is not expected to be made public until after the meeting. Genachowski has billed the rules as a compromise, backing down from an earlier proposal to reclassify broadband as a regulated telecommunications service and allow ISPs to reach paid prioritization agreements with content providers. The order also only shields wireless providers from net neutrality obligations, save for a basic no-blocking rule.

That was enough to secure at least the nominal support of major phone and cable companies, though the two Republicans on the commission blasted the idea. Genachowski's two fellow Democrats have both expressed dismay that the order will not go further to keep the Internet a level playing field.

Several net neutrality advocacy groups have also panned the exemption for wireless providers, and warned that the provision covering paid prioritization agreements, as well as the definition of broadband access, will create loopholes that could allow service providers to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the rules.

In his call for Genachowski to publish the order ahead of the vote, Upton stressed that the companies that would be most affected by the rules -- ISPs -- have offered only conditional support, saying publicly that they can live with the chairman's framework as they understand it, but not ruling out a potential legal challenge or other opposition once they see the final version.

"You have said that you are simply proposing rules of the road that everyone supports and you have invoked the names of many companies and public interest groups as endorsing the draft," Upton wrote. "Yet many of these same entities have stressed that they have not seen the item and will reserve judgment until they can examine the text. It is only fair to allow those you say support the proposal to see what it is you say they are supporting."

Upton reiterated his pledge to launch a campaign of "strict oversight" of the FCC in the next session of Congress, vowing to hold a series of hearings beginning early next year.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the order Tues., Dec. 21.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.