In her first act in the new Congress, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has introduced a bill that would strike down the Federal Communications Commission’s new net neutrality rules.
Blackburn’s bill, named the Internet Freedom Act, stipulates that any regulation of Internet service providers requires the explicit authorization of Congress.
The FCC voted on Dec. 21 to approve baseline neutrality rules prohibiting cable and phone companies from blocking websites and legal services and applications on their networks. The agency approved the order by a three-to-two vote split along party lines, and did so only after efforts to broker a legislative compromise had broken down.
“The FCC’s Christmas week Internet grab points out how important it is that we pass this bill quickly,” Blackburn said in a statement. “The only sector of our economy showing growth is online. In these times, for an unelected bureaucracy with dubious juristiction [sic] and missplaced [sic] motives to unilaterally regualte [sic] that growth is intolerable.”
Blackburn’s bill is cosponsored by 59 House Republicans, including Fred Upton of Michigan, the new chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which has oversight jurisdiction over the FCC.
Upton has pledged to make FCC Julius Genachowski a “familiar face on Capitol Hill,” vowing to begin a series of oversight hearings early in the new session and to advance legislation to overturn the agency’s net neutrality order, along with other executive regulations enacted over the past two years.
While Blackburn’s bill would accomplish that goal, Upton has also pointed to invoking the Congressional Review Act, which provides an expedited mechanism for Congress to void executive branch regulations through a joint resolution, as a path to overturning the net neutrality order.
As a practical matter, the Blackburn bill could clear the House, where Republicans now hold a commanding majority, but would likely run aground in the Senate. Any legislation or joint resolution could also be subject to a presidential veto, with Obama having endorsed the FCC’s order.
Blackburn introduced similar legislation last session.
Opponents have objected to the FCC’s move on the grounds that the regulations are unnecessary and will crimp investment and innovation in network infrastructure.
But beyond their concerns about the implications of the policy, critics have taken issue with the FCC’s decision to act without authorization from Congress, particularly after a panel of federal judges ruled last year that the agency didn’t have the authority to punish Comcast for throttling traffic on its network.
The FCC has formulated a new legal defense of its authority over broadband providers, but the order is widely expected to be challenged by industry groups.