Republicans Thursday slammed the FCC for approving new net neutrality rules that they said amounted to overregulation of the industry and marked the first step toward a government takeover of the Internet.
"The Obama administration needs to get beyond its 1930s rotary telephone mindset and embrace the future," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor. "That means encouraging innovation, not suffocating it under the weight of an outdated bureaucracy and poorly named regulations like this one."
Congressman Darrell Issa of California accused the Federal Communications Commission of trying to "fix something that is far from broken.
"It is incredible to me that anybody would suggest with a straight face that turning the reins of the Internet over to the government will somehow lead to increased freedom and flexibility," Issa said. "One need only contrast the perpetual stagnation of traditional utilities to the explosive growth of the Internet to see how nonsensical the argument is.
"Competition in private industry drives prices down," Issa added. "Government regulation ensures a lack of innovation."
Issa joined with other Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler,
a Democrat, to express concerns over the new rules. The panel will hold a hearing on the changes next month.
"Unfortunately, so-called net neutrality has all the hallmarks of an Obama policy: a lack of transparency throughout the process, a glossy public relations campaign that seeks to mask the reality of the proposal, and guarantees that, if successful, the government’s hand will reach ever-further into Americans’ lives," Issa said.
In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC approved regulations that Wheeler unveiled earlier this month that supporters said will prevent conglomerates from consolidating control over the flow of online content.
The crux of the new rules was widely favored by many public interest groups, Hollywood content creators, and a large number of web companies, including Netflix and Twitter: It reclassifies Internet services as Title II telecommunications services, which is a regulatory designation akin to that of a utility.
Wheeler said his changes would give the commission the authority to impose rules over Internet service. They would prohibit Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling content, and from collecting payments from content providers for speedier access to subscribers.
The latter has been commonly referred to as the idea that ISPs would eventually create Internet "fast lanes."
The commission's two other Democrats, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, also supported Wheeler's recommendations. On Tuesday, Clyburn called on Wheeler
to scale back some of his proposed changes.
Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly opposed the new rules.
"Today is a red-letter day for Internet freedom," Wheeler said.
But the changes are also strongly opposed by cable and telecom companies, which provide both wired and wireless Internet service.
Other Republicans said the reclassification of the Internet would burden the industry with needless regulation.
"Overzealous government bureaucrats should keep their hands off the Internet," House Speaker John Boehner said. "Today, three appointed by President Obama approved a secret plan to put the federal government in control of the Internet. The text of the proposal is being kept hidden from the American people and their elected representatives in Congress — and the FCC’s chairman has so far refused to testify about it.
"This total lack of transparency and accountability does not bode well for the future of a free and open Internet, not to mention the millions of Americans who use it every day," Boehner said.
Wheeler refused to appear
Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee to discuss the changes. The panel is chaired by Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Georgia Sen. David Perdue said Americans "deserve a more open Internet — not one that’s controlled and mandated by Washington. In fact, any policy coming out of Washington should promote our free-enterprise system, innovation, and more competition.
"The FCC’s latest Internet regulation plan falls short of these marks," he said.
Congressman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee accused the commission of approving "the Obama Internet plan" and of gathering "Internet activists behind closed doors at the White House to write the real rules" during the public comment period.
"The undue influence exerted by the White House has left a cloud hanging over the 'independent' FCC and this entire process," Blackburn said. "Title II net neutrality is a Trojan horse for a government takeover of the Internet."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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