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Hill Not Neutral on Net Vote

Members of Congress reacted swiftly to the FCC vote on proposed new open Internet rules Thursday.

“The FCC took an important step forward today to preserve an open Internet," Senate Commerce Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) said. "The American people do not care what magic words the FCC uses to assert its authority, they just want the assurance that the Internet will remain free and open. That is why I am glad that all options are on the table, including Title II. It is critical for the FCC to use its full authority to reinstate these critical consumer protections for the Internet.”

The rules rely on current Sec 706 authority, but ask how Title II could/should be used as alternative legal justification.

Rockefeller's opposite member on the committee, leading Republican Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), was not happy with the specter of Title II.

“I am disappointed in Chairman Wheeler’s decision to include the option of Title II reclassification in the net neutrality NPRM," he said. "By keeping legacy regulation on the table, the chairman is fostering marketplace uncertainty. This could discourage investment and innovation, and ultimately threaten the online experience that consumers enjoy and rely on today. I intend to keep a close watch on this proceeding as it moves forward.”

“While it's not perfect, I certainly appreciate the Chairman's efforts to improve the Net Neutrality NPRM," said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), a member of the House Communications Subcommittee. "I'm encouraged that the FCC is considering its options to encourage innovation and protect consumers. The FCC must extend its public comment period [it will be 120 days] to allow for robust debate to determine the best approach moving forward. I encourage all Americans who care about the future of the Internet to share their voices with the FCC.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler emphasized before the vote that the rules do not necessarily allow paid prioritization and that he would not allow slow and fast lanes to develop, but Matsui was not assuaged.

“I am still very much concerned with the paid prioritization concept. This country cannot afford a two-tiered Internet system. It's not good for consumers or for innovation. These deals could easily be used to favor some content at the expense of others and prohibit small startups without the resources to buy access to an Internet fast lane. We need open Internet rules that encourage companies to compete for customers without striking special deals.”

Commissioner Ajit Pai, who had wanted to delay the vote, said at the meeting that Congress should be the one making the call on the FCC's authority to regulate broadband. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), vice chair of the full Energy & Commerce Committee, was on the same page.

“I fully agree with Commissioner Pai," she said. "The decision to regulate or reclassify the Internet is not one that should be made by five unelected individuals. This is a decision that is best left up to Congress at the will of the American people. Unfortunately, President Obama and his handpicked FCC Commissioners continue to try and impose unpopular campaign promises by partisan fiat. Trying to regulate or reclassify the Internet has as much support as transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States. Both proposals are net losers that need to be retired once and for all.

“Before the Commission takes and further action they need to conduct a cost benefit analysis of the net neutrality rules as I requested last month. I look forward to asking Chairman Wheeler about this when he testifies next Tuesday before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology," she said.

Sen. Al Franken (D- Wis.) blasted the FCC:

“Today’s vote could spell the beginning of the end of the Internet as we know it, plain and simple,” he said.  “Because of net neutrality, the Internet has been a tremendous platform for innovation and connectivity. But the FCC has taken a woefully misguided step toward handing the Internet over to big corporations who can pay boatloads of money for preferential treatment. Anyone who values a free and open Internet should be deeply troubled by the FCC’s vote, and I plan to do everything I can to convince them that they need to change course.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), former chair of the House Communications Subcommittee and a long-time net neutrality supporter, was with Franken:

“Without a truly open Internet, America will be closed to innovation. Today’s action at the FCC could begin the dismantling of the open Internet as we know it unless the Commission reclassifies broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II.  Internet access today is like traditional phone service decades ago – we can’t live or work without it. In order to preserve a truly open and free Internet, we must stop broadband behemoths from setting up fast and slow lanes and picking winners and losers. Start-ups and small business would suffer, slowing our economy and job growth throughout Massachusetts and around the country. I will continue to fight to ensure that the world’s greatest platform for innovation, job-creation and economic growth remains a level playing field for all.  

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) didn't like the rules.

“Free from regulation and government meddling, the Internet as we know it has thrived," they said. "Sadly, these unnecessary rules the commission proposed today will have a chilling effect on job creation and innovation without any corresponding consumer benefit. These rules are a solution in search of a problem. Worse still, any attempt to reclassify broadband Internet embarks on a worrisome course for its future. With so much at stake, Chairman Wheeler has ignored the bipartisan congressional calls for caution. We look forward to a spirited discussion with Mr. Wheeler next week on the commission’s misguided vision of a heavily regulated Internet.”

Wheeler is scheduled to appear before the Communications Subcommittee May 20.