Senators on both sides of the Internet competition debate invoked an age-old children's game on Wednesday in arguing whether rules enacted by the Federal Communications Commission in December are a government takeover of the Web or vital to protect freedom.
Republicans said the so-called net-neutrality regulations would force companies to ask the government for approval before rolling out new products or services, while Democrats said that without the rules, smaller companies and consumers would be at the mercy of Internet service providers.
“The truth is that if the rules are overturned, every innovator on the Internet will be exposed to the risk that before they innovate, before they create a new product, they're going to have to go to somebody and say, 'Mother, may I do this?', and then there will be a price attached to that,” Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said in a floor speech.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, spent the last several days arguing that the rules amount to a government takeover of the Internet.
If passed, her resolution would block the FCC from implementing the regulations. A final vote is expected on Thursday.
By trying to prevent companies from blocking or controlling certain types of content or service, the rules force companies to play a game of “Mother May I?” with federal regulators, she said.
The debate took on a partisan nature not typical for technology issues as both sides sought to tie the regulations to larger issues.
Republican backers of the resolution painted the “job-killing” rules as similar to oppressive environmental and financial regulations.
Without congressional action, the rules will allow “unelected bureaucrats to tinker” with the openness of the Internet, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said as the Senate began debate over the resolution to block the regulations.
“At a time when the private sector would like to create jobs and grow the economy, it seems like too many in Washington want to create regulations and grow government,” McConnell said. “It is an overreaching attempt to fix the Internet when the Internet is not broken.”
Democrats, on the other hand, argued the rules are necessary to preserve the open nature of the Internet, as well as freedom itself.
“The Net is not about geeks. It’s about democracy,” declared Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who has pushed for even stricter net-neutrality regulations, said overturning the rules would be a victory for the powers that be.
“This is about having a platform that is free and open to all, regardless of whether you are a big corporation or a single individual, and regardless of whether you pay a lot of money to speed up how fast your content gets to your customers,” he said.
And Kerry sounded a similar note when he asserted that proponents of the resolution were trying to create a process to “be gamed once again in favor of the most powerful.”
Republicans shot back, insisting that in a time of economic distress, the government could not afford to enact regulations that stifle innovation to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., quipped that FCC should stand for "Fabricating a Crisis Commission."
Assertions that the freedom and growth of the Internet are threatened are “ridiculous,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“To suggest that some type of regulation is needed flies in the face of the growth of the Internet economy,” he said. “We are regulating where regulation is not needed … regulating based on speculation and regulating in search of a problem.”
The White House has threatened to veto the measure if passed. The House approved a similar measure in April.
The regulations are scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 20.
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