Hill Weighs In on President's Title II Plan

Reaction from Capitol Hill to President Obama's strong stand on net neurality was split along poltical lines.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee and likely its new chairman in the next, Republican-controlled Senate, said Monday that the President's call for Title II regulation of the Internet would turn that medium into a "government regulated utility" and would "stifle" the sector with almost 80-year-old rules meant for traditional phone service. He was joined by House Republican leaders in that appraisal. On the other side, energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and the ranking member of the House Communications Subcommittee, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), were all for it.

"The president’s stale thinking would invite legal and marketplace uncertainty and perpetuate what has needlessly become a politically corrosive policy debate," Thune said in a statement.

“It is critical that the Internet remain open and that consumers are protected. As it crafts new rules, the FCC should recognize the benefits of its highly successful light-touch regulatory approach to Internet policy, and, most importantly, the FCC must follow the law.”

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Vice Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio), were one "troubled" trio.

"We are extremely troubled and disappointed by the president’s urging the FCC to regulate the Internet as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Today’s announcement is just the latest in a long line of decisions that reveal this administration simply doesn’t know how to grow the economy. Sadly, it appears the president is abandoning the successful hands-off policy of his Republican and Democratic predecessors in favor of centrally controlled Internet policy. This is a mistake."

Eshoo and Waxman could hardly have disagreed more.

"The President’s statement today recognizes once again the guiding tenets of a free and open Internet," said Rep. Anna Eshoo. "His endorsement of a sound legal approach to open Internet rules will continue the success of the Internet. I strongly urge the FCC to adopt the President’s approach.”

Waxman was thrilled.

"“Today is a great day for the Internet," he said.“The President is showing true leadership. He has given strong, unequivocal support for robust open Internet protections. And he has made it clear that he stands with consumers and the public, not the cable and phone companies that could profit by turning the Internet into slow and fast lanes."

But Waxman also supported giving the the FCC some room--and a little more time--to figure out its next move--new rules are unlikely to come before early next year.

“The FCC is right to make sure it has the record it needs to act, but any delay for additional examination should be short," he said. "The FCC should now move expeditiously to complete the rulemaking and establish the bright-line rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization that define a free and open Internet.”

Hill reaction continued to file in as the day wore on.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said the President was "going after" the broadband sector and reminded the FCC who was boss.

“Last week, voters across the country rejected the president’s regulatory policies that have made this economic recovery the weakest in more than half a century," Johnson said in a statment. "Ignoring this, today the president has decided to go after one sector of our economy that has continued to flourish: the Internet.

"Treating the dynamic Internet like a government-regulated utility will stall investment and innovation and inject uncertainty into the market through burdensome rules and legal challenges. As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee with direct oversight over the FCC, I strongly oppose reclassifying the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act and will remind the FCC that as an independent agency, it answers to Congress, not the White House.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the FCC should not bow to poltiical pressure.

“President Obama’s decision to put political pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet is bad for American consumers, would stifle economic growth, and would open the pathway for unnecessary government interference. The Internet’s revolutionary success is due in large part to an entrepreneurialism that adapts and innovates freely as the Internet evolves. A free and open Internet allows Americans to operate their small businesses, communicate freely, and stay competitive in a changing global economy. Instead of bowing to political pressure from the President, the FCC should take into account the strong bipartisan support for keeping the Internet free and open.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) advised Wheeler to follow the law, not the President's advice.

“President Obama’s net neutrality plan would create uncertainty, discourage investment and innovation, and threaten the online experience that Americans rely on and enjoy. His regulatory proposal would undoubtedly be tied up in the court system for the foreseeable future," Wicker said in a statement. "It is my hope that Chairman Wheeler will instead pursue a solution that follows the law and does not disrupt economic growth and job creation. We must work to keep the Internet free and open for everyone.”

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who pushed for Title II, and network neutrality while in the House and has been doing so in the Senate as well, said: “When the leader of the free world says the Internet should remain free, that’s a game changer."

"President Obama today joins millions of Americans who have made their voice heard loud and clear at the FCC. Net neutrality is as a basic to the functioning of the Internet as nondiscrimination is to the U.S. Constitution," he said.  

“In July, I led a dozen of my Senate colleagues in urging the FCC to do what President Obama called for today: to reclassify broadband service as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. I will continue to press Chairman Wheeler to take this action as soon as possible to ensure the Internet remains the world’s greatest platform where the best in ideas can survive and thrive.”

“I have repeatedly called on the FCC to use its full statutory authority to preserve a free and open Internet," said retiring Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D- W.Va.). "Millions of Americans have urged the FCC to carry out its longstanding statutory obligation to protect consumers and competition. I join the President’s call for the FCC to preserve net neutrality by using the full scope of its authority, including Title II, subject to appropriate forbearance. It is now critical for the FCC to act expeditiously, and I know Chairman Wheeler is already engaging all stakeholders for input on how best to move forward.”

Wheeler had already scheduled meetings this week with various stakeholders--ISPs and public interest groups--to talk about a way forward on new rules.

The President's statement did not sit well with one possible future presidential candidate.

"President Obama’s announced support for more government regulation of the Internet threatens to restrict Internet growth and increase costs on Internet users," said Senate Commerce Committee member Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). "Furthermore, applying heavy-handed Title II classification to Internet service sends the wrong message to international stakeholders that look to the United States for leadership in Internet governance, and undermines our support for an open Internet, free of government intervention.

“Instead of reclassifying Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, the FCC should allow Congress to update this law. I believe it should be a top priority of the new Congress to provide clarity on the FCC’s role in the modern communications landscape.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.