Reaction was pouring in from Capitol Hill Tuesday (Nov. 20) after FCC chair Ajit Pai circulated an order rolling back the 2015 Open Internet order -- a proposal scheduled for a Dec. 14 vote -- including word from powerful Republicans that they support Congress stepping in to ensure permanent net-neutrality rules.
Related: Pai Circulates Order Unwinding Title II Classification of ISPs
Energy & Commerce Committee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Communications Subcommittee chair Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) praised Pai's rollback of common-carrier-based internet regulations. (Blackburn helped lead the successful congressional effort to nullify the FCC's rules on broadband privacy).
Related: Quinn Says AT&T Is Big Backer of Blackburn Privacy Bill
“Today’s announcement demonstrates that the FCC, under the leadership of Ajit Pai, understands the importance of making sure the internet continues to flourish under a light-touch regulatory regime," they said in a joint statement. "The past two years of heavy-handed regulation will be only a blip on the screen of a decades-long bipartisan equilibrium that successfully supported innovation and growth."
They pledged to work for legislation establishing net-neutrality rules. "We remain committed to ensuring clear, permanent net-neutrality rules through the legislative process, encouraging investment in broadband buildout, and closing the digital divide across America,” they said.
“I commend the current FCC for its commitment to a free and open Internet with a lighter regulatory touch, and today’s announcement is a major step in that pursuit," said Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). "The Internet has been a powerful tool for private enterprise and economic growth since its inception thanks to a relatively hands-off government approach. I’m a staunch believer in net neutrality principles such as no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. However, top-down regulation of the Internet is not the best way to ensure user access to content — in fact, it’s counterproductive."
He, too, said Congress should be the ultimate arbiter. "Ultimately, the most effective path to providing certainty for consumers, providers, and businesses that rely on the Internet is to find common ground in Congress and pass legislation.
Related: House Antitrust Tackles Network Neutrality
That effort has born little fruit so far given that Democrats wanted that legislation to be based in Title II, while that was a nonstarter for Republicans.
In announcing Tuesday that the order had been circulated, Pai signaled that the FCC would stop micromanaging the 'net and "simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices," a deregulatory mantra that had Democrats booing and Republicans cheering.
Democrats saw it quite differently.
Calling it an effort to "gut" the rules, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) one of the Hill's biggest Title II fans, promised a "firestorm" of opposition.
"Startups on the verge of discovering a new job-creating innovation could be shut down in favor of bigger companies willing to pay more to rig the market," Markey said. "All because Chairman Pai is listening to a few broadband barons that want to serve as all powerful gatekeepers to the internet despite millions of Americans writing into the Commission in defense of net neutrality. Consumers, start-ups, and innovation will lose. Internet service providers will win. I urge all of those who rely on a free and open internet – whether it’s for commerce, education, healthcare, or entertainment – to join me in creating a firestorm of opposition to this assault on net neutrality.”
“Net neutrality is essential for protecting free speech online and allowing small businesses to flourish, and that’s why the American people spoke out by the millions in defense of these important protections," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC. "In making this announcement today, the Trump FCC is choosing to ignore the public and push forward with a harmful plan to kill net neutrality and destroy the internet as we know it. But the fight is not over—we will keep fighting to keep net neutrality and protect the free and open internet.”
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.
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