Republican members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday called on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to rescind its network neutrality order from last December, but the agency's chairman defended the decision.
During a subcommittee hearing, several Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee criticized the FCC for overstepping its authority when passing rules that would prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic.
The Democratic majority at the FCC has defended the rules as needed because the Internet has traditionally functioned without gatekeepers, noted Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican. "Aren't you merely making the government the gatekeeper in this particular case?"
That isn't the goal of the net neutrality rules, said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. "We're simply saying that certain conduct by the companies that do control access to the Internet aren't consistent with Internet freedom and shouldn't be permitted," he said.
The FCC rules have broad support from entrepreneurs and innovators, Genachowski said. The rules will create Web-based jobs, he added.
"I believe that preserving Internet freedom and openness is essential to maintaining American leadership in the technologies that rely on the Internet, as well as this nation's role as a beacon for political freedom and free expression around the world," Genachowski said. "And I believe that a sensible open Internet framework promotes significant private investment throughout the broadband economy, both by companies creating Internet content, applications, and services and by those providing the wired and wireless broadband networks and infrastructure."
The FCC's net neutrality rules, passed by a 3-2 vote, face court challenges from Verizon Communications and MetroPCS Wireless, a mobile carrier. House Republicans suggested the FCC could end uncertainty over the rules by backtracking.
The FCC's net neutrality order is "full of doublespeak," said Representative Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican. "It says to keep the Internet free, we need to regulate it," he said. "To ensure no one needs permission to innovate, everyone will need to ask the FCC for permission to innovate. To create certainty, as few as three commissioners now can decide what types of business arrangements and traffic management techniques are reasonable."
More uncertainty about doing business on the Web would exist if the FCC had not passed net neutrality rules, said Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat. At least four broadband or mobile carriers, including Comcast, have tried to throttle some types of Web traffic since 2005, she said. "There is a record of violations," she said. "You know who those violations are against? All of us."
The subcommittee hearing came a day after Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Internet subcommittee, said he would offer an amendment to a U.S. government budget package that would prohibit the FCC from using funds to implement net neutrality rules.
Resolutions introduced in both the House and Senate would prohibit the FCC from moving forward with the rules. The Republican efforts to block the rules are unlikely to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
"The recent attempts of the FCC to regulate the internet through the imposition of net neutrality rules is a solution in search of a problem," Walden said. "In the end these are issues better determined by network engineers, entrepreneurs, and consumers acting in a vigorous marketplace, not the subjective politicized judgments of a federal agency."
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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