​Republicans aim to reverse landmark net neutrality ruling

Reuters / Steve Marcus
The historic net neutrality ruling handed down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week has quickly garnered opposition in the form of a few dozen Republican lawmakers who are vying to reverse the FCC’s decision in Congress.

Thirty-one members of the GOP have already signed their names to be co-sponsors of proposal put forth on Wednesday this week in the House that would specifically prohibit the FCC from reclassifying broadband internet access as a telecommunications service if passed and outright overturn last week’s major ruling regarding net neutrality.

The author of the bill, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), said the FCC’s decision to regulate broadband as a public utility “is further proof that the Obama administration will stop at nothing in their efforts to control the Internet.”

“There is nothing ‘free and open’ about this heavy-handed approach. These overreaching rules will stifle innovation, restrict freedoms and lead to billions of dollars in new fees and taxes for American consumers,” Rep. Blackburn said of the FCC’s ruling.

Blackburn has dubbed her bill, HR 1212, the “Internet Freedom Act,” and it has attracted 31 cosponsors so far, all Republicans, since being introduced.

More precisely, the passage of Blackburn’s proposal would mean the FCC’s 3-2 decision last week to reclassify high-speed internet “shall have no force of effect,” and prohibit the agency from making any similar decisions in the future.

Supporters of the FCC’s ruling – including President Barack Obama – hailed last week’s determination as a victory for open internet in the US because it prohibits service providers from prioritizing the delivery of online content to household customers.

Fight for the Future, an online advocacy group, called the FCC’s ruling “the biggest public victory against entrench[ed] interests in history.” According to the organization, 4 million comments to the FCC and 10 million emails at Congress were sent in the months leading up to the commission’s decision last week to approve a proposal with net neutrality projections put forth by Chairman Tom Wheeler after pressure from the White House further amplified those calls.

“This shows that the Internet has changed the rules of what can be accomplished in Washington,” Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer told the New York Times last week.

On the other side of the issue stands Blackburn, and two-and-a-half dozen other congressional Republicans.

FCC adopts net neutrality rules endorsed by open internet advocates

“Once the federal government establishes a foothold into managing how Internet service providers run their networks they will essentially be deciding which content goes first, second, third or not at all. My legislation will put the brakes on this FCC overreach and protect our innovators from these job-killing regulations,” Blackburn said in a statement released alongside the addition of her proposal to the congressional record this week.

Blackburn, 62, has served in the House of Representatives since 2003 and also sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee as vice chair. According to public disclosure records, Verizon Communications, Comcast Corp and AT&T Inc, – three of the largest telecoms in the US – appear in the list of Blackburn’s most substantial contributors during the current fundraising cycle, having combined donated $61,000 to the Republican in 2013-2014. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, an industry trade group, also lobbied Blackburn during that span to the tune of $20,000.

Separate from the lawmaker’s proposed Internet Freedom Act, three state lawmakers in Tennessee asked the attorney general this week to challenge the FCC’s ruling on account of being “a violation of state sovereignty.” As in Congress, that effort so far garnered the support only of Republican, including the state’s top lawyer.

“We are disappointed the FCC would assert authority over a local governmental body, which is an area of responsibility resting exclusively with the state in which the local governmental body exists,” Herbert Slatery, the attorney general, told the Tennessean.

According to the newspaper, the telecom industry gave $643,000 to state and federal candidates and committees in Tennessee during the last election cycle.

“They do a good job in their lobbying efforts, and they have a good, simple story to tell – which is always easier than a complicated story,” state Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) told the Tennessean. “So it will be tough to overcome that.”