Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), one of the strongest critics of the Federal Communications Commission's expansion and codification of network neutrality rules, rallied conservative Republicans to the cause of repealing those new regs Friday, trying to move the debate beyond telecom policy circles to the wider ambit of "core" conservative values she sees at risk.
In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Blackburn said she had a stand for them to take.
"We must act now to completely turn back the FCCs regulation of the Internet. If we do not, we will have failed to check the single largest unilateral imposition of executive authority in a generation," she said, according to a copy of her speech that a staffer said was delivered "substantively" as written..
Blackburn has vowed to find a legislative route to invalidating the Dec. 21 vote by the FCC's three Democrats to adopt network neutrality rules. She has already introduced a bill to block the rules by preventing the FCC from regulating the Internet, and included that in a three-pronged strategy she outlined to the conference.
"Conservatives have a plan to stop Net Neutrality," she said. "First, led by Fred Upton [R-Mich.] and Greg Walden [R.-Ore], we will pass a resolution of disapproval in the House. Second, Congressman John Culberson of Texas will work with the Appropriations committee to de-fund any FCC authority to implement their regulations. Finally, my bill H.R. 96 will settle once and for all- explicitly- that Congress has granted the FCC no authority to regulate the Internet." She introduced a similar bill in October 2009 after the FCC voted to launch the proceeding to adopt net neutrality regs.
Blackburn said that President Barack Obama and his "basketball buddy, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, had teamed up to enact "the FIRST EVER [emphasis hers] regulation of the Internet. Now all Conservatives MUST all stand up and be heard."
Blackburn then threw some net neutrality red meat to the crowd. "Invoking powers previously reserved for third world countries, the FCC will change the terms of broadband leases after the fact and exercise powers they have created for themselves in defiance of Congress and the courts," she said.
Blackburn said the Obama Administration had essentially nationalized the Internet, and that "If there was ever a cause to rally the Conservative movement, it should be the nationalization of our most innovative economic sector."
Blackburn called network neutrality a "hysterical reaction to a hypothetical problem."
She dismissed network neutrality supporters, saying that having Free Press and MoveOn in that camp "tell you all you need to know."
Blackburn said that if the FCC's regs are allowed to stand they would prove to be a "colossal failure of historic and devastating proportions." They have already been challenged in court by Verizon and MetroPCS but aren't scheduled to go into effect until mid-summer at the earliest. Blackburn suggested that conservatives core values are being challenged in a tech policy debate from which they have been largely absent--with the exception of conservative bloggers, she said--leaving a vacuum being filled by a "massive expansion of federal authority."
The FCC had no comment, but Free Press returned Blackburn's broadside.
"Net Neutrality was not a partisan issue until Congresswoman Blackburn's financial backers at AT&T poured money into a disinformation campaign aimed at stoking the anti-government rage of right-wing think tanks and talk radio," said Research Director Derek Turner, whose blog on the issue Blackburn referred to in the speech. "Misleading rhetoric like hers prevents us from productively engaging in the legitimate debates of whether the Internet should remain free and open or the corporate gatekeepers will get to decide what Americans see, hear and do online.... Net Neutrality is a goal of Americans across the political spectrum, from the ACLU to the American Library Association to the Christian Coalition."