Democrats and Republicans Wrangle Over the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules

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Congress debates whether net neutrality rules promote competition and innovation or stifle economic activity.

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On Wednesday, the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held the second of two hearings on the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) recent net neutrality regulations. The hearings follow Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-TN) introduction of legislation that would undo the FCC rules.

The new rules would prohibit broadband internet service providers from blocking traffic on the internet. A new transparency requirement would also require broadband providers to disclose the terms and conditions of their services.  While President Obama has praised the new rules, Republicans argue that the new rules could harm technological innovation and economic growth.

At the hearings, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski claimed that the FCC justified its rules with market analysis.  However, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, stated that the “FCC has done nothing to specifically quantify any harm requiring intervention or the potential harm to consumers, innovation or the economy from the proposed rules.”

This focus on economics has been at the core of the Republican push against regulation of net neutrality.  House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) reportedly characterized the new rules as one of the government’s many attempts to “take over” industries which will ultimately “stifle private-sector job creation and undermine . . . entrepreneurship and innovation.” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) has argued that the FCC’s rules would burden service providers and result in greater consumer costs.

Supporters of net neutrality respond that the FCC’s rules promote competition and free speech.  At the hearings, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) reportedly claimed that abolishing the FCC’s rules would “give control to the Broadband Barons” and hinder small businesses’ innovation.  Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) argued that the rules were necessary to prevent companies from charging “a toll for content,” thereby stifling innovation.

President Obama has stated that the FCC’s new rules will “preserve the free and open nature of the Internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice, and defending free speech.”

An earlier The Regulatory Review essay provides background on the net neutrality debate, and the FCC’s approach.