House Debates FCC Net Neutrality Rules

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The House voted 241 to 178 Tuesday to take up the Republican-backed FCC network neutrality rule-blocking resolution under a closed rule, which means limited debate (one hour) and no amendments.

That came after the debate in the full House Tuesday, also an hour, on H.J. Res. 37, which would invalidate the Federal Communications Commissions' Dec. 21 vote to expand and codify its network neutrality guidelines. The resolution is expected to be approved on a primarily partly line vote in the House in a vote either Wednesday or Thursday, according to a House Energy & Commerce Committee spokesperson, though it will likely go no further given the Democratic-controlled Senate and the President's public support for the rules.

Republicans Tuesday likened the rules to a fairness doctrine for the Internet and first-time regulation of a thriving space that needs no government intrusion, while Democrats said they were a compromise approach, supported by most parties that would preserve openness and innovation.

Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) kicked off the debate on the resolution, saying Congress should reject it because the FCC does not have the authority to impose the regs. "This bill is about congressional prerogatives," he said, about standing up to a regulatory branch that is overstepping its authority. He called the rules "A solution to a problem that doesn't exist using authority the FCC does not have."

Woodall said the Internet should be free of government regulation. He defended the vote on the resolution as a closed rule--no amendments and limited debate--because that is the nature of the resolution, which is an up or down vote on a single item. The resolution is a one-page statement that the reg is invalid.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said it would imperil job creation. Polis, who once ran an ISP and launched proflowers.com, called it a "terrible" one-page bill. He said the FCC had done an exemplary job on the rules and had received "buy-ins" from most of the major broadband suppliers. He said the FCC did their job by listening to all parties and revising their net neutrality regs.

He pointed out that in the Rules Committee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) had suggested some of those had been coerced into that support. He said he did not have enough info to dispute that, but cited financial analysts who said the FCC's new rules had removed the "regulatory overhang" and they were no longer concerned. He cited Goldman Sachs as saying the rules were "light touch." He also pointed to Comcast as saying the new rules are a workable balance of competing interests.

He said the rules essentially preserve the status quo, and prevent a power shift from content to broadband providers.

Polis cited what he called "censoring" incidents, including Madison River blocking VoIP for example. He said the rule was critical to preserving a free and open Internet. He talked of the possibility of blocking political speech.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that there has been no market failure and that the public does not want the government stepping in to assign priority and value for content. "It is basically the fairness doctrine for the Internet."

She said the resolution was about the issues of power and control. She said that the FCC had stepped in and brought uncertainty to the marketplace. Citing paragraph 84 of the order, she said that application innovators would have to apply to the FCC first.

Polis said he opposed the fairness doctrine, and that the FCC rules would promote a marketplace of ideas that is the antithesis of the doctrine.

Blackburn and Polis engaged in a spirited argument over whether the rules were an Internet fairness doctrine, with Polis eventually closing that debate by saying they could continue the argument on Blackburn's time.

Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said that the left was arguing that the internet needed to be regulated to keep the Internet from being regulated. He called the rules a regulatory scheme from presidential appointees. Terry acknowledged that there have been a handful of incidents, but the marketplace with a little bit of government involvement have resolved them.

Rep. Greg Walden, chair of the Communications Subcommittee, who proposed the resolution, said the FCC's own order would prohibit religious organizations from creating a specialized service, responding to Democrats arguing that without the rules, ISPs could block political or religious speech. Walden said the net was already free and open, and not "because the government picked winners and losers."

Walden said he was using the Congressional Review Act because it was narrow and targeted. He also called the FCC's decision a "naked grab for power" that could open up the door for state regulation. He also said that ISPs' not opposing the rules were still threatened with an open Title I proceeding. "The last thing you are going to do is poke your regulator," he said.

Polis said that the rulemaking has nothing to do with proprietary networks, religious or otherwise. Walden said he did not think that was the case. He said the FCC had singled out Koshernet in its order to say that was an example of something that was not kosher, as it were.

He also pointed out that the rules apply to the pipes, but not the content providers or search engines. He wasn't arguing for including them in the rules, but making the point that the FCC was allowing them to control and prioritize access to their searches.

Republicans and Democrats were essentially reprising their debate a day earlier in the House Rules Committee, this time for a C-SPAN audience.

The White House has advised the president to veto the resolution if it gets through the Senate, which is unlikely.

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