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Hill As Divided as FCC on Net Neutrality

Mirroring the FCC's division on network neutrality rules between harshly critical Republicans and supportive but not enthusiastic Democrats, legislators weighed in Tuesday in the wake of the FCC's decision to impose new regulations on Internet access services.

Taking to the Senate floor, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called it an administration move to take over the Internet. "Today, the Obama Administration, which has already nationalized health care, the auto industry, insurance companies, banks and student loans, will move forward [the statement actually preceded the FCC vote] with what could be a first step in controlling how Americans use the Internet by establishing federal regulations on its use. This would harm investment, stifle innovation, and lead to job losses."

He warned that the new Congress would "push back against new rules and regulations," though that is more likely from the House side, since Republicans will have the majority in the body and control the chairs and direct oversight investigations.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) in a blog posting Tuesday likened the FCC to vampires sucking the lifeblood out of the net and vowed that Congress, like the rising sun, would put an end to its undead dealings.

Balckburn was slated to join the incoming republican chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee Tuesday afternoon to discuss the decision. It was not expected to be a praisefest. Rep Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has already told B&C he will try to block implementation of the order.

"The FCC's party-line vote today to create so-called net neutrality rules on the Internet forces cumbersome and unnecessary government mandates, stifling one of our country's most innovative sectors," said Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. "No clear authority or justification to do so exists for the FCC.  The Obama Administration seems determined to inject government controls into this and other marketplaces, further hurting the economy and investments in job creation. I applaud Commissioners McDowell and Baker for their principled opposition, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to quickly put an end to these unnecessary regulations and returning true certainty to our marketplace."

Republican Commissioners Meredith Attwell Baker and Robert McDowell provided stinging rebukes to the order in their dissenting statements, calling it overreach, arbitrary and capricious, unnecessary, and bound to be overturned in court.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has already tried to block implementation of the new rules with an amendment to the omnibus appropriations bill. It would have defunded implementation. But the appropriations bill was pulled by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week.

But Hutchison Tuesday said she would try again, introducing a "resolution of disapproval" to overturn the agency order.

A similar attempt was made by Sen. Byron Dorgan to try to block implementation of the FCC's media ownership rule changes back in 2008, but it did not pass. No vote on Hutchison's resolution would likely come until at least February, said a committee source on background.

"This [FCC] vote is an unprecedented power-grab by the unelected members of the Federal Communications Commission," Hutchison said Tuesday of the 3-2 party line vote to approve the rules.

But the chairman of the committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) saw it quite differently. Echoing FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who concurred rather than approved the order, he said he wished it had gone farther, specifically applying all the open Internet regs to wireless broadband, rather than a few. But he also echoed Copps in calling it a first step toward preventing web traffic discrimination.

"I am pleased that under the leadership of Chairman Julius Genachowski the FCC voted to move ahead today and address network neutrality," he said in his statement. "By and large, I believe that this effort, along with ongoing oversight and enforcement, will protect consumers and provide companies with the certainty they need to make investments in our growing digital economy....While many champions of the open Internet would have preferred a stricter decision - and I myself have real reservations about treating wireless broadband differently from wired broadband - I think today's decision is a meaningful step forward."

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) joined the march of folks calling it "a step forward." He said that the order fell short in not banning paid prioritization outright--it presumes it to be unreasonable discrimination, but leaves the determination up to a case-by-case analysis--and to apply the regs to wired and wireless equally.

"The Open Internet Order is not perfect, and it does not contain all the protections and priorities that I've advocated for since I introduced the first-ever net neutrality legislation almost three years ago," he said. "Still, it does represent a step forward in the process of preserving the Internet as a vibrant marketplace for commerce and communications while fostering innovation and job creation now and in the future."

"The FCC set ground rules for maintaining open access to the Internet today," said Virginia Senator Mark Warner, himself a former telecom exec (he co-founded Nextel). "Even though this was a negotiated compromise, some will claim that this is an attempt to regulate the Internet.  The truth is that we're talking about basic Internet access rules, not government control over content."