(Photo: Patrice Gilbert/ALM.)
House Republican leaders jumped into the net-neutrality fray Wednesday, sending the Federal Communications Commission a letter opposing any attempt to reclassify broadband as a Title II service.
The missive comes on the eve of a pivotal FCC vote to move forward with new net-neutrality regulations. In April, Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed allowing Internet service providers to charge companies like Netflix a toll for faster access, prompting a massive public backlash. The FCC has received more than 20,000 comments in the past 30 days, and protestors are already camped out in front of the agency’s headquarters on 12th Street S.W. in advance of tomorrow’s meeting.
Consumer advocates such as Free Press urge the FCC to reclassify broadband as a more heavily regulated Title II service, akin to a telephone company. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.; Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; and Conference Chair Kathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said doing so will “limit economic freedom and innovation, and threaten to derail one of our economy’s most vibrant sectors.”
Title II rules, they continued, “are designed for the old-fashioned, monopoly-era phone service. … As we continue to ask the world to keep their hands off the Internet and to allow people to freely engage with each other, we should lead by example and reject calls to return to a bygone model of network regulation.”
They added, “It’s not too late to reject the idea that we should regulate the Internet under Title II.”
The letter suggests the agency is giving more thought to the idea of outright reclassification, which broadband providers consider “the nuclear option.” Wheeler never ruled it out—in an April 24 blog post he wrote that Title II reclassification “remains a clear alternative”—but his initial proposal did not invoke it.
The industry group United States Telecom Association also sent the FCC a letter today urging against Title II reclassification, and warned of “years of litigation that would undoubtedly ensue if the commission were to attempt to subject high-speed broadband to a regulatory regime designed in the era of steam locomotives.”
The FCC’s five commissioners will meet at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, when Wheeler will unveil a formal notice of proposed rulemaking on net neutrality. It’s not clear how much he’ll modify the general outlines of his initial plan, which was revealed in late April. It’s also not clear whether the other commissioners will be on board. The two Democrats may feel the proposal doesn’t go far enough, while the Republicans seem to think goes too far.
Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in a May 7 speech said she has “real concerns” about the proposal, and that “rushing headlong into a rulemaking … fails to respect the public response.” She also stressed her support for an “open Internet.”
The two Republican commissioners appear to be an even harder sell. Republican Ajit Pai in a statement said he has “grave concerns” about the proposal, and Michael O’Rielly in a May 6 op-ed published in The Hill said the agency should “wait for Congress to provide the FCC with direction on how we should regulate, if at all, the networks and services of the digital age.”
Contact Jenna Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jgreenejenna.