Friday, January 16, 2015

GOP makes U-turn on net neutrality

1/15/15 3:55 PM EST
Updated 1/15/15 6:40 PM EST

Republicans in Congress are doing a 180 on net neutrality as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to issue new rules within weeks.
For years, GOP lawmakers have adamantly opposed any rules requiring Internet service providers to treat all Web traffic equally, calling them unnecessary and an example of Washington overreach.

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But now that the FCC is moving toward issuing a tough net neutrality order that would subject broadband to utility-style regulation — an approach endorsed by President Barack Obama — top Republicans in both chambers are making plans to legislate their own rules to ensure the agency doesn’t go too far.

“Times have changed,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House telecom subcommittee, said when asked about the evolving GOP position on net neutrality. “The administration has latched onto this [utility-style regulation], and the FCC’s independence is nominal at best.”

According to Walden, the Republican bill — which “is ready” and will be released in the coming days — “gives the protections that the president and FCC say they want, and does it in a legally sustainable way.”

Walden and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) announced late Wednesday that they plan to hold double-header hearings on net neutrality next week, and Thune laid out set of principles that will guide them as they craft the legislation.

The language Republicans are using to talk about their proposed bill illustrates just how far the GOP has come on the issue. The principles embrace and even bolster ideas that were once controversial in Republican circles, like banning “paid prioritization,” the practice of charging content companies for an online fast lane.

Thune’s principles also include bans on blocking or throttling Web traffic and extending net neutrality protections to wireless networks, an idea put forward by Obama and congressional Democrats.

At the same time, the GOP measure would tie the FCC’s hands, prohibiting it from reclassifying broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act, or using other sections of the law to create new rules.

Still, the fact that Republicans are even talking about legislating net neutrality marks a stark departure from their past position.

When a federal appeals court last year threw out the FCC’s previous attempt at net neutrality rules, Walden and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) called the court decision “a victory for jobs and innovation … by keeping the government’s hands off the Internet” and preventing the government “from playing the role of traffic cop.”

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