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The FCC Proposal to Overturn Net Neutrality Leads Congress to Express Support for Internet Rules

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WASHINGTON, November 23, 2017 – Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday praised plans by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to roll back the network neutrality rules put in place by his predecessor, but pledged to work towards some sort of legislation that would outlaw blocking and throttling internet content currently prohibited by the threatened rules.

Reps. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee – the chairs of the full committee and communications subcommittee, respectively – released a joint statement commending Pai’s decision to gut the rules, which were passed in 2015 under then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

“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.

“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.”

Members of Congress say they want a legislative solution to the problem of net neutrality

Yet Walden and Blackburn both expressed support for a legislative solution to the problems posed by a lack of network 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.

Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld suggested that Pai’s attempt to roll back the rules beyond even those version that had existed during the George W. Bush Administration was a gambit to force Congress into action.

“Today’s draft order shows both an appalling disregard for the record and an astounding disregard for even the basics of administrative law,” Feld said.

“It would seem more likely, as some have suggested, that Chairman Pai and Congressional Republicans have released this order to create a crisis atmosphere and push through legislation authored by the cable companies rather than in a serious attempt at policy.”

The Internet Association goes on the offensive against the Pai proposal

But the Internet Association — a trade association representing some of America’s largest technology companies, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Spotify – released a statement panning the proposed rules.

The Pai proposal would repeal the 2015 rules put in place by Wheeler. That regulation reclassified broadband internet access services and placed them under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Making internet access a public utility has allowed the FCC to prohibit the blocking and throttling of lawful applications in the same way telephone companies are prohibited from blocking fax calls or charging fax users more money to send faxes.

“Chairman Pai’s proposal, if implemented, represents the end of net neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans who support the 2015 Open Internet Order,” CEO Michael Beckerman said.

“This proposal undoes nearly two decades of bipartisan agreement on baseline net neutrality principles that protect Americans’ ability to access the entire internet,” he said.

Beckerman noted that the current rules created “bright-line, enforceable net neutrality protections that guarantee consumers access to the entire internet and preserve competition online,” and that the proposed replacement does none of those things.

“Internet Association and our members will continue our work to ensure net neutrality protections remain the law of the land,” he said.

Internet service providers pledge to avoid doing the very things they would now be permitted to do

While many of the nation’s largest broadband providers welcomed Pai’s announcement, they also pledged to refrain from doing the exact things the new rules would allow.

In a blog post on Comcast’s website, Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen wrote that it was important for consumers to know that “we do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content – and we will be transparent with our customers about these policies.”

NCTA President and CEO Michael Powell said in a statement that an open internet is “deeply rooted” in cable customers’ expectations. He said the new rules would not change how his organization’s members do business.

“For the better part of two decades, our companies have built services that meet those expectations and satisfy their customers’ desire to visit any lawful website or run any lawful application,” Powell said.

“The draft order will not change how our companies view the freedoms intrinsic to internet service, but critically, it will correct the prior FCC’s mistake in relying on an outdated framework that elevates government micromanagement over market innovation and growth,” he said.

(Caricature of Ajit Pai by Donkey Hotey used with permission.)

Andrew Feinberg rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com as Managing Editor in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. In addition to covering the White House for Russia's Sputnik News - and from which he publicly departed - he has covered tech and telecommunications policy in Congress and at federal agencies for Communications Daily, FastCompany.TV, Mashable and Washington Business Journal.

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