Reaction was pouring in from Capitol Hill Tuesday after FCC chairman Ajit Pai circulated an order rolling back the 2015 Open Internet order, scheduled for a Dec. 14 vote, including from powerful Republicans saying they supported Congress stepping in to ensure permanent net neutrality rules.
Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Communications Subcommittee chair Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) praised Pai's rollback of common carrier-based 'net regs. (Blackburn helped lead the successful congressional effort to nullify the FCC's rules on broadband privacy).
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“Today’s announcement demonstrates that the FCC, under the leadership of Ajit Pai, understands the importance of making sure the internet continues to flourish under a light-touch regulatory regime," they said in a joint statement. "The past two years of heavy-handed regulation will be only a blip on the screen of a decades-long bipartisan equilibrium that successfully supported innovation and growth."
They pledged to work for legislation establishing net neutrality rules. "We remain committed to ensuring clear, permanent net neutrality rules through the legislative process, encouraging investment in broadband buildout, and closing the digital divide across America,” they said.
“I commend the current FCC for its commitment to a free and open Internet with a lighter regulatory touch, and today’s announcement is a major step in that pursuit," said Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). "The Internet has been a powerful tool for private enterprise and economic growth since its inception thanks to a relatively hands-off government approach. I’m a staunch believer in net neutrality principles such as no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. However, top-down regulation of the Internet is not the best way to ensure user access to content — in fact, it’s counterproductive."
He, too, said Congress should be the ultimate arbiter. "Ultimately, the most effective path to providing certainty for consumers, providers, and businesses that rely on the Internet is to find common ground in Congress and pass legislation.
Ditto Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee. “The last administration’s approach of regulating the internet with depression era phone rules is deeply flawed," Thune told B&C. "While I support Chairman Pai’s efforts as an improvement, I still strongly believe the only way to create long term certainty for the internet ecosystem is for Congress to pass a bipartisan law.”
That effort has born little fruit so far given that Democrats wanted that legislation to be based in Title II, while that is a nonstarter for Republicans.
Chairman Pai Tuesday, in announcing the order had been circulated, signaled that the FCC would stop micromanaging the 'net and "simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices," a deregulatory mantra that had Democrats booing and Republicans cheering.
“I welcome Chairman Pai’s announcement to restore the light-touch regulatory framework that has allowed the internet to thrive since its creation," said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), a senior member of the Senate Commerce Committee. "This action will set the stage for expanding investment and job creation in the internet economy and closing the digital divide that exists in Mississippi and around the United States. I will continue to work with my colleagues to put a legislative solution in place that enshrines net neutrality protections into law and fosters an environment where broadband is accessible, affordable, and reliable for all Americans.”
Democrats saw it quite differently.
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Calling it an effort to "gut" the rules, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) one of the Hill's biggest Title II fans, promised a "firestorm" of opposition.
"Startups on the verge of discovering a new job-creating innovation could be shut down in favor of bigger companies willing to pay more to rig the market," he said. "All because chairman Pai is listening to a few broadband barons that want to serve as all powerful gatekeepers to the internet despite millions of Americans writing into the Commission in defense of net neutrality. Consumers, start-ups, and innovation will lose. Internet service providers will win. I urge all of those who rely on a free and open internet – whether it’s for commerce, education, healthcare, or entertainment – to join me in creating a firestorm of opposition to this assault on net neutrality.”
“Net neutrality is essential for protecting free speech online and allowing small businesses to flourish, and that’s why the American people spoke out by the millions in defense of these important protections," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC. "In making this announcement today, the Trump FCC is choosing to ignore the public and push forward with a harmful plan to kill net neutrality and destroy the internet as we know it. But the fight is not over—we will keep fighting to keep net neutrality and protect the free and open internet.”
“Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed his long-term goal to unravel net neutrality protections, demonstrating that he is on the wrong side of history, startups, consumers and the public interest," said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.). "As millions of Americans voice their support for a free and open internet, Chairman Pai’s proposal hands the internet over to the largest Internet Service Providers (ISPs) who can throttle, assess a toll or block content.
“The net neutrality protections have advanced competition and innovation, created more startups and entrepreneurs, and have been judicially approved. Repealing these protections is an assault on what has made the internet what it is… an open and dynamic platform. This is not the end of a battle but the beginning of a new one that I will engage in to protect the open internet for my constituents and all Americans.”
“The internet must remain an open marketplace where everyone has the opportunity to participate," said Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) "Rolling back net neutrality protections will undermine the ability of American consumers and businesses to innovate and compete on a level playing field online. My constituents and Americans across the country deserve to know that internet content will be treated equally, and I will continue to fight in Congress to ensure that it is.”