Net Neutrality, Digital Discrimination Dominate FCC Hearing

Intense questioning began immediately after the introductory comments and initial testimony were over at yesterday’s FCC oversight hearing. Top GOP lawmakers wasted no time in getting to the point. The agency’s recent vote to restore Net Neutrality, which it calls “Restoring Internet Freedom,” was the main topic. Inside Towers reported the Commission proposed reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service.

GOP lawmakers call what the FCC did “Biden’s Broadband Takeover.” House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chair Bob Latta (R-OH) said the plan “defies logic.” This, combined with the recent vote to prohibit digital discrimination, he said, “will discourage broadband deployment, at a time when Americans need it most. The recent partisan actions taken by the Commission,” Latta said, “causes me great concern.”  

Full House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) called the actions “a heavy-handed regulatory approach that was designed to regulate monopolies. The last time we had this debate during the Trump Administration the Democrats claimed that “repealing Net Neutrality rules, would mean ‘the internet as we knew it would end.’” To the contrary, broadband investments and speeds are up, she emphasized.

Rodgers called for continuing the current light touch regulatory approach “to allow companies to adapt and thrive. New digital discrimination rules will put burdens on internet providers.”

Rodgers said any changes to how the internet is regulated should be made by Congress, not the FCC. “Instead of pursuing a partisan agenda, the FCC has a responsibility to work with this committee.”

Ranking Member Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said: “If the Republicans want to focus on broadband, that’s fine with me. The FCC has built a successful broadband affordability program. It’s also released the third version of its new broadband maps. Americans are tired of waiting for a broadband provider to serve their neighborhood.”

“Under Trump, since the previous administration gave up its authority over broadband, there were 250,000 [related] complaints to the FCC,” Pallone explained. “Net Neutrality would enable the FCC to deal with this.”  

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel testified that “bringing broadband authority back [to the agency] will enhance network security and eliminate discrimination in broadband access.” The FCC’s digital discrimination rules were required by Congress, she noted.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said: “Six years ago Americans lived through one of the greatest hoaxes in history. CNN proclaimed the end of the internet as we know it. Activists said the internet would slow down. Did any of those predictions come true? No. Speeds are up six-fold. Title II was never about improving the online experience. It was always about control.”

The digital equity plan, Carr said, “gives the FCC the ability to micromanage…and have veto power over internet service.”

Rosenworcel said the rules would enable none of these actions. The dire internet doom predictions didn’t come true because about 12 states stepped in with their own Net Neutrality guard rails, the Chairwoman noted.

“We commenced a proceeding to ensure blocking, throttling, paid prioritization” didn’t happen, emphasized Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. As far as the digital discrimination rules, meant to prevent digital “redlining,” he said, “stopping digital discrimination will empower individuals everywhere.”  

Concerning other issues, Rosenworcel explained that 22 million households rely on the Affordable Connectivity Program. She asked lawmakers to continue funding it before it runs out of money next April.

The Chairwoman also again asked lawmakers to approve the $3 billion in funding to fully reimburse small, rural carriers for their efforts to “Rip & Replace” untrusted network gear from Huawei and ZTE. She also reiterated to lawmakers the agency’s need to have its auction authority restored.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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