Walden: FCC Net Rules Could Lead To Google Regs


House Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said Wednesday that the Federal Communications Commission should not regulate Google's business any more than it should ISPs.

That came in opening remarks in the Communications Subcommittee legislative hearing on a resolution to invalidate the FCC's new network neutrality regulations.

Upton, who along with Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), strongly backs the resolution, said that if the FCC's rules were allowed to stand, logic would lead to the commission ultimately regulating Google and others. The FCC regs do not currently apply to applications and other content providers.

But Upton said that Google engages in subjective prioritization that affects traffic and can financially impact Websites, which are among the arguments for the FCC mandating nondiscrimination by ISPs, as it does in the new regs, subject to reasonable network management.

"Should the FCC be determining whether Google is engaged in unreasonable discrimination? Is Google's traffic management reasonable? Would it be appropriate for the government to intervene because of the possibility of future harm, without any analysis of a current problem or market power?," he asked. His answer was no. "I think not - not for Google, or anyone else."

Cable operators agree that regs are not needed, but the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) has also argued that if the FCC imposed any regs, it should have done so on both rather than singling out ISPs for special treatment.

In arguing for the regs Wednesday, Walden cited a commentary by "grandfather of the Internet" and former FCC Chief Technologist David Farber that the FCC's new rules "will sweep broadband ISPs, and potentially the entire Internet, into the Big Tent of Regulation."

Walden said blocking the rules was not just about the Internet, but the FCC's wider authority. "FCC's underlying theory of authority would allow the commission to regulate any interstate communication service on barely more than a whim and without any additional input from Congress," he said. "I do not want to cede such authority to the FCC."

Democrats on the committee, led by former Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), said there was a disconnect between the facts and Republican efforts to block the rules. He said he had heard from economists who have backed the rules, pointed out that broadband providers did not oppose them--the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which helped negotiate the compromise regs, has said it supports them, at least as preferable to tougher regs. He also pointed to a consumer survey released Tuesday finding the respondents backed the regs. "But none of these facts seem to matter," he said.

Waxman warned that the rule blocking effort was a distraction from more important telecom issues like freeing up spectrum, creating a public safety communications network and reforming the Universal Service Fund. All those are on the FCC's docket.

Ranking subcommittee member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), whose district includes numerous content and app companies pushing for net neutrality regs, also pointed out that stakeholders like the NCTA and AT&T do not see the regs as menacing. She also pointed to what she said was a flood of letters from religious leaders, consumer groups and high tech associations opposing the resolution to block the regs.

She warned that the resolution would create uncertainty about FCC authority beyond the order itself, and could affect its ability to promote pubic safety and protect against online privacy violations and piracy. She said the rules were necessary to prevent blocking access and unreasonable discrimination and consumers and businesses being told what sources of content they can access.