Based on various media reports, it appears the Republican-controlled House of Representatives could try to wreak havoc with the FCC's agenda, especially regarding attempts to protect the Internet from major corporate interests. If that doesn't work, those same corporate interests are depending on the courts to help.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, led by Rep. Fred Upton, R-MI, has placed the nullification of the FCC's network neutrality rules high on the committee's agenda. He is also looking into what he termed the “abuse of power and process” of the Comcast/NBCU transaction review completed earlier this week.
“We are glad Comcast can now get back to doing business and creating jobs, but the price of doing so should not be coerced compliance with the heavy-handed tactics of an overreaching FCC,” said Upton and a group of his supporters.
“The FCC's efforts to circumvent both the free market and courts by railroading job- and investment-harming net neutrality provisions, as well as regulation of nascent Internet-distributed video, represent more of a Chicago-style shakedown than the thoughtful deliberation this transaction deserved. We will be examining whether changes in the FCC's transaction review process are needed as we exercise congressional oversight in the weeks to come,” he said.
In a separate action, less than a month after the FCC adopted its net neutrality order, Verizon filed a suit in a federal appeals court in an attempt to overturn the new rule. The telco is arguing that the FCC exceeded its authority and violated the company's constitutional rights.
On Capitol Hill, Upton also will try to block network neutrality rules the FCC approved on Dec. 21. There was speculation he would use a “resolution of disapproval” under the Congressional Review Act. This would require a simple majority in both congressional chambers and can't be filibustered in the Senate.
Upton signaled that nullifying the FCC's net neutrality vote would be one of the committee's initial priorities under the new Republican leadership. The committee is also set to hold a series of hearings on “the harm regulation of the Internet will cause investment, innovations and jobs.”
Rep. Greg Walden, R-OR, chairman of the Communications Subcommittee, and Rep. Lee Terry, R-NE, the vice chairman, signed onto Upton's statement. Also, Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said he supported the review of the FCC's actions. McDowell voted for the merger, but did not support the conditions imposed by the commission on Comcast.
McDowell said the FCC review of the Comcast-NBCU deal with too coercive and too lengthy.
“That is a healthy debate to have,” he said of the House committee's plans. “It is healthy to have a discussion on what the FCC's authority should be in future merger reviews."
Verizon filed its suit in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the same court that in April ruled that the FCC had overstepped itself when it sanctioned Comcast in 2008 for blocking users of its broadband Internet service from BitTorrent, a file-sharing application.
The challenge, which was widely expected to come from at least one of the big Internet service providers, sets up what is likely to be a lengthy legal battle over the rights of broadband companies to run their networks without government interference.