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No Neutrality in Internet Access Hearing

March 9, 2011

Democrats and Republicans both came out swinging on Wednesday morning as the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee opened its second hearing on keeping the precious Internet bandwidth available to one and all.

Congressional Republicans have introduced resolutions of disapproval to recall regulations enacted by the Federal Communications Commission in December. The regulations are designed to prevent Internet providers from blocking websites that use a lot of bandwidth, such as video-streaming sites like Netflix. Republicans say rules are unnecessary and illegal.

Democrats called Republican efforts to overturn the FCC's net neutrality rules destructive and said the GOP-backed resolution of disapproval isn't based on facts.

"My concern is that there is an enormous disconnect between the facts and the majority's policy objectives," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said as the hearing opened.

"There is no crisis warranting intervention," House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in his opening statement. "The reality is, if the FCC was truly weighing the costs and benefits of its actions, the agency would not be attempting to regulate the Internet."

Witnesses at Wednesday's hearing include representatives of AT&T, Free Press, RapidDSL, and Buzzcar, as well as Strategic Choices and Northwestern University.

In his prepared testimony, Free Press Research Director Derek Turner said that rather than overreaching, the FCC rules do not go far enough.

"Allowing gatekeepers to erect barriers to speech and commerce is an unacceptable outcome, and public policy should be used to prevent it," Turner wrote.

AT&T's Vice President for Legislative Affairs James Cicconi will reiterate his company's position that although the rules are not perfect, they are better than the alternatives. This puts AT&T at odds with other major telecom carriers like Verizon, which has launched a lawsuit against the regulations. Cicconi will argue that the prolonged debate over net neutrality rules simply creates uncertainty for the marketplace.

"For far too long, the question of net neutrality has hamstrung the Federal Communications Commission and our industry and prevented needed action on far more urgent, and real, problems... but more important than the distraction has been the investment uncertainty created by the extended and public debate over whether the FCC should adopt net neutrality rules, and if so, how far they should go," Cicconi wrote in his prepared remarks.

In written statements provided to the committee, Steve Largenty President and CEO of CTIA, the wireless association, repeast his argument that "we do not believe that net neutrality rules are necessary for the wireless industry" while National Cable and Telecommunications Association President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow reasserts that "such rules were a solution in search of a problem".

"We would much rather see (and believe it would be more equitable to have) a light regulatory touch for everyone in the Internet ecosystem than a heavy and counterproductive regulatory regime on part or all of the Internet ecosystem," McSlarrow said in the statement.

After adjourning for a speech by the Australian prime minister, the subcommittee will reconvene to hear testimony, and in a markup scheduled for immediately after the hearing, vote on the resolution. Democrats have complained that because the resolution cannot be amended, they have no meaningful input.

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