GOP Turns Up Heat to Block Network Neutrality

With the Federal Communications Commission voting as early as this month on Chairman Julius Genachowski's plan to expand and codify the agency's network neutrality principles, House Republicans seek to delay the vote as long as possible. In the Senate, Republicans may introduce legislation to block any new network neutrality rules.

House Republicans continued their pushback to proposed new network neutrality rules Oct. 5 with 20 House members sending a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski insisting that the FCC prove any market failures before approving any new regulations.
The letter came hours after the FCC said it plans to vote later this month on Genachowski's proposal to add two more rules to the agency's current four network neutrality principles. The rules would require carriers to deliver broadband in a non-discriminatory manner and to disclose their network management policies in a transparent manner. Genachowski also wants the FCC to explore whether network neutrality rules should extend to mobile carriers.
"At first glance, net neutrality regulations may appear reasonable and harmless, but, a deeper examination reveals that net neutrality is neither reasonable nor harmless," Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., ranking member of the House Communications, Technology & the Internet Subcommittee, said in a statement. "These mandates would harm consumers, reduce competition and discourage new investment and innovation at a time of tremendous technological growth."
The House Republican leadership warned President Obama Oct. 2 that expanded network neutrality rules and the formal codification of those rules will jeopardize future broadband network investment by carriers. Moreover, the minority leadership claimed, Genachowski is inserting politics into the National Broadband Plan the FCC is preparing for Congress.
In the Senate, rumors continued to circulate that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison plans to introduce legislation aimed at stopping any new network neutrality rules. When Genachowski proposed the new rules Sept. 21, Hutchison moved to cut off any FCC funding related to implementing any Internet neutrality or network management principles, a legislative gambit she quickly abandoned.
In the Oct. 5 letter to Genachowski, Stearns and 19 other Republicans said, "The FCC bears the responsibility to prove a market failure, especially since its 2002, 2005, 2006, and 2007 decisions on cable modem service, digital subscriber line service, broadband over power line service and wireless broadband service were predicated on the notion that the broadband market nationwide is competitive and that regulation is unwarranted."
All four of those years mark Republican control of the FCC, but President Obama's election has changed that equation to a Democratic majority. Obama championed network neutrality as a candidate for the White House, with Genachowski writing Obama's telecommunications policy plan. Genachowski's two fellow Democrats on the five-person FCC have already endorsed the chairman's network neutrality proposal.
The House Republicans want the FCC to consider a wide range of competitive measures before imposing any new network neutrality rules, including network services, consumer electronics equipment, applications and a review of the competitive market between existing cable, wireline, wireless, satellite and broadband over power lines.
"All of this should be part of a notice of inquiry, since it would only be appropriate to propose rules after finding a market failure," the GOP lawmakers wrote to Genachowski. "Ideally, you would also wait until you have the broadband mapping complete and we have the results of the stimulus plan, as both will be relevant in determining if they are any competitive problems."
Genachowski had no comment on the letter, although he does plan a media availability event following his keynote remarks Oct. 7 at CTIA's Wireless IT and Entertainment show in San Diego. The CTIA is adamantly opposing Genachowski's network neutrality plans, particularly the notion that the rules should apply to wireless carriers.
"The latest House Republican letter asking for the FCC to slow action on preserving an open, non-discriminatory Internet is simply another attempt at a delaying tactic by those who favor big telecom and cable companies over competition and innovation," Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "The letter also has fatal flaws, such as when it asserts that net neutrality would make investment more difficult, or that net neutrality would result in lower speeds and higher prices for consumers. Both of those claims are false."
Sohn added, "There is nothing in banning discrimination on the basis of source, ownership or destination of bits would create lower speeds or raise prices. Those are simply distractions. Net neutrality is about big telecom, cable and wireless companies (which are often the same) picking winners and losers on the Internet. It has nothing to do with online services, consumer electronics or applications."