Policy

GOP Tears Into Net Rules

3/07/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — As it turns out, cable operators didn’t
need to come out strongly against the Federal Communications
Commission’s new
network-neutrality rules.

They just had to remain
politically neutral and let
Republicans in Congress
take the fight to the commission
— which they
have done with a vengeance.

Meanwhile, with cellphone
providers Verizon
Communications
and MetroPCS taking
the point on fighting the
FCC in court so far — and
Congressional Republicans
taking aim from
the Hill — cable operators
can stay below the
radar or above the fray,
depending on your point
of view.

As of last week, House
Speaker John Boehner
(R-Ohio) was the newest
GOP congressional leader
to tear into the rules (see
Viewpoint).

But he did more than
that. Boehner said he
was looking for a floor
vote by the end of the
month on the appropriately-
named Resolution
of Disapproval. That legislative
gambit was on a
fast track to be approved last week, but was delayed after
Democrats cried foul.

While it looked like Republicans might have blinked last
week, that is likely not the case.

The House Communications & Internet Subcommittee
agreed to a request by Democratic leaders to postpone a
markup of the resolution that would invalidate networkneutrality
rules. The rules were adopted Dec. 21, but won’t
take effect until mid-summer at the earliest due to the requisite
Paperwork Reduction Act vetting by the Office of
Management and Budget. Democrats had asked for a legislative
hearing before any markup.

According to a lobbyist source, Democrats had also proposed
at least five amendments to the resolution, the proposal
and disposal of which would also have allowed them
to talk substance at the markup.

“I’m pleased the chairman has agreed to my request for
regular order and a hearing,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.)
told Multichannel News in an e-mail message.

“The open Internet is a vital part of our economy, and
millions of jobs have been created along with thousands of
new, innovative businesses because of it,” she said. “Members
need to hear from the job-creating businesses that
rely on the Internet’s openness, before any vote to eliminate
the rules which protect it.”

So, did the Republicans blink? “The minority has requested
another hearing on these issues, so we welcome the opportunity
to shine additional light on the consequences of
these regulations for job creators and American innovation,”
said committee spokesperson Debbee Keller.

Translation, according to multiple industry players: The
Republicans have the votes to pass, and a hearing just provides
more opportunity to spotlight their criticisms of the
rules. “It’s easy to play nice when you have the votes,” one
public-interest player
and fan of the FCC’s netneutrality
rules said.

Rep. Greg Walden (ROre.),
the subcommittee
chairman, has scheduled
a hearing for March
9. Markup of the bill is
expected to come the following
week, according
to the lobbyist source. If
so, that would still leave
room for House action by
the end of the month.

With a Democratic
Senate and a president
who is on the record in
favor of the rules, the
resolution is unlikely to
be more than a vehicle
for the Republican’s disaffection. Senate Democrats
could hold a vote
on it if they wanted to put
a stake in the ground in
support of the rules, or
could simply take no action.

But whatever happens
with the resolution, not
taking action is not on
the Republicans’ agenda.
Boehner said he would
use every tool at his disposal
to block the FCC.

With months before
the rules are to go into effect, there is plenty of opportunity
for more hearings and GAO investigations into FCC
processes. There is also the possibility the Republicans
will continue to push to defund the rules as part of the
negotiation on a longer-term continuing resolution. An
amendment to that effect was already approved in the
House-passed version of that bill.

So much for the vaunted regulatory certainty the FCC’s
rules were billed as providing.

Asked for comment on the Republican efforts to block the
rules, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications
Association had a single-word response: “No.”

March