TIS17: 'Confused' Public Needs Help on Net Neutrality, Rep. Brooks Says

Indiana Republican says she backs moves to roll back Wheeler-era rules
Susan Brooks web John Staley.jpg

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Republican congresswoman Susan W. Brooks told a packed room of small and mid-sized cable operators here that the government should back away from burdensome internet regulation, and called on the crowd to help explain to consumers how the current rules could hurt. 

Congress is currently wrestling with many volatile issues under a new administration, including the new health care bill, investigations into Russia’s election tampering, infrastructure and taxes, she said onstage to moderator and ACA president Matt Polka, but one big focus for lawmakers is internet regulation. 

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“We have to provide a framework that offers a guardrail,” said Brooks, who sits on the energy and commerce committee and represents most of northern Indianapolis. “But we can’t be so restrictive that we are impeding all the innovation and all the advances in technology.”

She took particular aim at the FCC’s attempt, under former chairman Tom Wheeler, to reclassify internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai is leading an effort to reverse that course as the best way to ensure net neutrality.

Brooks said she agreed with Pai that “we shouldn't be regulating the Internet and your industry the way that the telephone industry of the ‘30s and ‘40s were regulated, that we shouldn't put the internet under Title II. We need to work to roll that back.” Her words were met with applause from the room including from cable operators, many of whom own their own businesses. 

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Part of the problem with building momentum for the changes is public support, and the fact that the true definition of “net neutrality” has been hijacked by some groups to fit their own point of view — and business strategy, Brooks said.

“We do believe in an open internet,” she said, “and we don’t believe in throttling or blocking customers’ signals for any reason."

But, she said, “There is no subject more confused in the mind of the pubic than net neutrality.”

“We need to figure out a way to talk about this differently,” she said, with more simplicity. “We get thousands of calls and letters on this issue. People do not understand.”

“We’re going to continue to push on deregulation of your industry,” she declared. “But please help us educate our members on the other side of the aisle about how this impacts affects you, your customers, your information. Whether it’s through public service announcements, or in their bill, help us educate the public about this issue. We need to clarify.”

She reassured the group that she was optimistic about rolling back Title II rules. “I like chairman Pai,” she said. “I think he's a terrific FCC chairman. I think we’re going to get it right. But we've got to have this discussion with the other side of the aisle to bring it along.”

The Independent Show, organized by the ACA and the National Cable Television Cooperative, runs until Wednesday.