House Committee holds hearing on network neutrality

On the eve of the FCC’s expected vote in favor of strong net neutrality rules, the House committee provided a preview of the challenges ahead in defending the open Internet. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee today expressed concerns at its hearing, The Uncertain Future of the Internet, ahead of the FCC’s anticipated net neutrality vote. The FCC is expected tomorrow to approve an Order reclassifying Internet service providers as telecommunications services subject to a higher level of regulation.

Anyone who tuned in to today’s hearing at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing would have come away with two vastly divergent views of where the expected FCC ruling on net neutrality will be taking the internet. Congress, let alone the public, has yet to learn the details of what the FCC will be voting on forcing today’s hearing to focus on broad net neutrality principals.

ALA has urged the FCC to approve reclassification as the only means of ensuring a fair and open internet.

In his opening statement, Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) noted that the FCC adoption “may not ultimately provide net neutrality protections for American consumers; that might lay the groundwork for future regulation of the Internet; that may raise rates for the American Internet users; and that could stymie Internet adoption, innovation, and investment.”

Several Republicans on the Committee echoed the Chairman’s concern calling on the FCC to delay its vote and allow Congress to enact legislation which, they argue, should have authority to make reclassification decisions over broadband providers. Republicans in the House and Senate are circulating draft legislation intended to supersede FCC action but have to date attracted any Democrats willing to co-sponsor legislation.

Democrats on the Committee, led by ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-CA), counter that the FCC should proceed with regulating the internet providers as the only means of ensuring network neutrality.

One thing is certain with network neutrality: Congress will be talking about this issue for some time. Republicans in the House and Senate have hinted that they intend to maintain pressure on the FCC through legislation, oversight and budget hearings, and possible investigations into White House actions appearing to pressure the FCC, an independent agency, towards adopting a particular course of action by approving reclassification.

About Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is the assistant director of the American Library Association's Office of Government Relations.

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