Skip to main content

House Communications Subcommittee Approves Internet Policy Statement Bill

A mark-up hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee
was over almost before it had begun, and a Republican-backed bill that would
make U.S. support of a multistakeholder model of Internet governance the law of
the land, rather than just the sense of the Congress, was favorably reported to
the full Energy and Commerce committee by voice vote and without amendment.

It also followed assurances from Republicans that their bill
would not pave the way for revoking FCC authority to impose net neutrality

The vote was really just a procedural move signaling that
the negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over their ongoing
differences on the bill will now come in meetings and full committee mark up.

The bill's language mirrors a resolution passed unanimously
by both House and Senate last session as a message to foreign governments
looking to exert more control over Internet governance. It holds that: "It
is the policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from
government control and to preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder
model that governs the Internet."

While Thursday's voice vote approval would appear to be a
big surprise given the problems Democrats expressed with the bill's potential
unintended consequences, it turns out the Republicans said they didn't want
those unintended consequences either -- though they maintained they didn't
think they would materialize -- and agreed to get together with Democratic
staffers to talk about amending the bill, or drafting a new statement, before
the bill is voted on in full committee.

In his opening statement, Walden continued to maintain that
the bill did not require or authorize the FCC to take any action regarding its
network neutrality rules, which are currently being challenged in court because
a policy statement, even one in law, does not impose statutorily mandated
obligations on the agency.

He pointed out that the National Cable and
Telecommunications Association, Google and others supported the bill. NCTA president
Michael Powell sent Walden a letter April 10 saying the trade group supported
adopting legislation this Congress that reiterated Congress' support of an
Internet free of government control.

That said, he also said there had been some misunderstanding
and he was willing to talk over the Democrats issues, with "everything on
the table," if they would agree to withhold their amendments for now.

Both Waxman and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member
of the subcommittee, agreed, though Waxman was kind of unhappy with Walden's
opening statement, at least the part where he reiterated that he didn't see a
problem with codifying the resolution.

Eshoo said she wanted them to be able to come reach
compromise on the language because she thought the bill could strengthen the
hands of diplomats and present a unified front against repressive regimes.

Likely one of the reasons Waxman was not happy with Walden's
statement was that in Waxman's opening statement the day before, he had
expressed concerns that Republicans did not want to include a clause clarifying
the FCC's authority. Walden said that such a clause was not only unnecessary,
but that he didn't want to start introducing caveats that would encourage
foreign governments to justify their own.