Disagreement in Congress on “net neutrality”


Just as the FCC is split on whether the Internet needs more government regulation, Members of the US House and Senate are divided on the “net neutrality” issue. And while the Obama White House is clearly on the pro-regulation side, the split in Congress is not necessarily along party lines.

In a move timed to coincide with the FCC vote, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) introduced “The Internet Freedom Act of 2009,” which would block the FCC from regulating the Internet and negate the rules proposed under the NPRM. McCain said his bill would “keep the Internet free from government control and regulation,” which he said would stifle innovation, slow the economic recovery and hinder job creation.

As for his bill: “It will allow for continued innovation that will in turn create more high-paying jobs for the millions of Americans who are out of work or seeking new employment. Keeping businesses free from oppressive regulations is the best stimulus for the current economy,” McCain said.

A group of 18 of McCain’s Republican colleagues in the Senate recently wrote Chairman Julius Genachowski and the other four FCC members, warning against adoption of any rule which was supported by only the three Democrats on the Commission, rather than having all five members involved in such a “major policy shift” as net neutrality.

But it’s not just Republicans in opposition. An unlikely coalition of 72 House Democrats – comprised of conservative “Blue Dogs” and members of the Congressional Black Caucus – wrote to the Chairman and Commissioners of their concerns that net neutrality regulations could hinder deployment of broadband service in rural and minority communities. (No, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s father, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) was not among the signatories.)

The Chairmen of the Committees on Capitol Hill which oversee the FCC are strongly backing Genachowski’s net neutrality NPRM. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) had a joint letter ready to fire off to the Chairman as soon as the FCC vote was official.

“Today, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning the establishment of rules designed to preserve and protect the open nature of the Internet.  We have each, in the past, voiced our support for policies that protect consumers and promote an open Internet.  Our positions have not changed. 

We write to support your efforts to conduct this rulemaking in an open and transparent manner that is fair to all parties.  We expect that the Commission will make every effort to consider all voices prior to voting on final rules.  

We believe this issue deserves nothing less from the Commission, and we look forward to working with you and your staff as this process goes forward,” the lawmakers wrote.