Texas Republican Rips Waxman’s Net Neutrality Solution

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman emeritus of the House Energy & Commerce Committee had a succinct reaction to the proposal of colleague and former E&C chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) that suggests the FCC use a hybrid Sec. 706/Title II approach to regulation when it restores net neutrality rules: "He's wrong."

That came in an interview for C-SPAN's Communicators series. Waxman, who is retiring at the end of this session, suggested reclassifying Internet access under Title II regulations, then using Sec. 706 authority to establish bright-line rules banning blocking, "throttling," and paid prioritization.

Barton called Title II "old law" from the 1930s that some are trying to apply to 21st century networks.

Barton says the best governor of allocation and usage issues is a free market with appropriate oversight by the federal government and, "in some cases," state and local governments.

He said for Waxman or the FCC to try and use the hundred-year-old common carrier law to regulate the Internet was "flat out wrong."

Barton said Congress could override the FCC if it decides to go the Title II route, but suggested that would be a high hill to climb. "With President Obama and a Democratic majority in the Senate, it would be difficult to do, but not impossible," he said.

Some prognosticators are giving the Republicans better than even odds of regaining the Senate. Barton did not address that scenario, but no one is predicting Republicans would get the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto by the President.

Asked about his take on the Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV merger proposals, Barton said his hunch was that they would go through with some "qualifiers" (conditions) attached.

He talked about a bill he is trying to move to try and protect online privacy. Asked if he thought net neutrality or privacy would come up in the lame duck session he laughed. "I do not. I think we are going to have a short lame duck session and I don't think telecommunications issues will be a part of it at all."

Barton gave a shout out for low power TV stations. He recently teamed with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, on a letter to the Government Accounting Office asking that it study the impact of the FCC's incentive auction on low-power TV stations and translators. Those stations, with the exception of Class A low powers, are not participating in the broadcast incentive auction and their signals are not protected from interference in the post-auction repacking.

Barton called that a niche issue that not a lot of people paid attention to but said that in some markets low power is a major player, and in some rural markets the only player.

He said he had been approached by Texas LPTVs and at the national level and had written some letters and worked on some legislation. But instead of trying to move those bills, he and Eshoo opted for the letter to GAO.

He said the FCC has begun to pay attention to LPTV thanks to some of the things he has done, but said the GAO study would shed even more light on the issue. "We don't want low power to just be left out in the cold," he said.

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.