House Calls Edge Providers, ISPS to Testify at New Hearing

As Walden calls for net-neutrality legislation, Blackburn chides Day of Action protest

The House Energy & Commerce committee used its FCC reauthorization hearing Tuesday (July 25) to announce it will hold a hearing Thursday, Sept. 7, on "Ground Rules for Internet Ecosystems," with invites going out to edge providers including Facebook, Alphabet (Google), Amazon and Netflix, as well as ISPs including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Charter.

The invitations to testify have already been extended. Committee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said it was time to hear directly from the top ISPs and edge providers so they can share their positions, adding that with more than a month's notice, they should be able to appear.

"It is time for Congress to legislate the rules of the Internet and stop the ping-ping game of regulation and litigation," Walden said. "A strong consensus is forming across party lines and across industries that it’s time for Congress to call a halt on the back-and-forth and set clear net-neutrality ground rules for the internet.

“In some form or another, we have been working for at least 20 years on the intertwined goals of incentivizing the huge investments needed to connect Americans, while keeping the internet open and protecting consumer privacy, Walden continued. "With almost everyone in agreement about fundamental principles to prevent anti-competitive behavior such as throttling and blocking, I think we are closer than ever to achieving a lasting resolution. The time has come to get everyone to the table and get this figured out.”

Communications Subcommittee chair Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) agreed, adding, “I expect this hearing will create an opportunity for fruitful discussions and a real solution.”

Blackburn, in her opening statement at the FCC reauthorization hearing, bristled at the suggestion that Republicans are opposed to network neutrality.

"Let me be clear," she said, "Republicans have always supported a free and open internet."

She referred to the July 12 internet Day of Action protest, and said Amazon, Facebook and Google's participation alongside Pornhub, Free Press and others to suggest Republicans were trying to break the internet, saying that is not the case; rather, the GOP is trying to "restore the culture of humility lacking under the regulatory cloud left by former FCC chair Tom Wheeler.

She said it was time to move past partisan rhetoric and pass legislation clarifying net-neutrality oversight.

Subcommitte vice chair Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) agreed, and said there was common ground on the need for net neutrality and that a light-touch approach has strong support.

Taking the other side was subcommittee ranking member Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who pointed to the more than 12 million net-neutrality comments in the FCC's public file as evidence that the FCC's net-neutrality rules need no legislative fixes. He said the rules are working and to roll them back would hurt small business and "regular people."

Former ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) associated herself with Doyle's remarks, calling them superb.

Eshoo said the FCC is barreling down the road toward eliminating critical protections and making it clear that start-ups and small business input is not as valued as special interests.

Blackburn agreed that Title II and net neutrality deserves the attention of the committee.