Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski faced a familiar grilling on Thursday by House members of Congress who asserted that antitrust laws would be a better way than FCC regulations to prevent Internet service providers from blocking legal content.
That FCC’s net neutrality order “circumvents Congress’s lawmaking authority and will stifle innovation in a morass of bureaucratic rules,” said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet.
“And make no mistake: the Open Internet Order exceeds the FCC’s power. Congress has never given the FCC the authority to impose this sort of top-down regulation of Internet services.”
Thursday’s hearing rehashed some older arguments over net neutrality, but with a focus on other potential fixes. Goodlatte argued that antitrust laws, especially if tweaked by Congress, are better suited to reducing anticompetitive behavior online.
“Rather than a heavy-handed regulatory approach crafted by the FCC, I believe a light-touch, antitrust-based approach will best protect a competitive, innovative, and open Internet,” Goodlatte said. “Antitrust law provides a time-tested and predictable system for preventing providers from engaging in anticompetitive blocking or discrimination.”
Last month, the House voted to repeal the FCC rules passed in December, which have yet to go into effect. Goodlatte said that vote did not end Congress’s effort to protect the Internet, and he promised more hearings on the issue.
Genachowski defended the regulations as offering a “sensible, high-level” approach that enjoys “broad support” from stakeholders. He asserted that the agency’s rules are actually better suited to the dynamic Internet marketplace than using antitrust laws.
“Some people think the framework we adopted doesn’t go far enough, and others think it goes too far. I believe it gets it right,” Genachowski said.
Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell joined Genachowski at the witness table and also pushed back against any new antitrust laws, but for a different reason.
“Nothing is broken in the broadband Internet access market that needs fixing,” said McDowell, who voted against the net neutrality rules. He said he favors an approach that uses nongovernmental organizations to help preserve Internet openness.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., shared McDowell’s view and said the FCC has yet to prove that Internet monopolies are hurting consumers.
“I know monopolies when I see one,” Issa said.
“Please give me a break, somebody,” retorted Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. “Let’s not start this conversation off this morning with 'everything is OK.' It’s far from OK.”
This article appears in the May 5, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.