Net neutrality hearing highlights partisan split

The Republicans see the threat to the Internet as big government; the Democrats see it as big industry. That was the philosophical difference in a nutshell this week at a House hearing on net neutrality.

The FCC has “selectively applied the (net neutrality) rules to broadband providers, shielding Web companies,” said Rep. Greg Walden, R-OR, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. “Such picking of winners and losers will stifle the investment needed to perpetuate the Internet’s phenomenal growth.”

Walden presided over the hearing, which included testimony from all four FCC commission members as well as Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Following the hearing, on Thursday evening, the House of Representatives voted to approve a pair of amendments to a massive bill that would slash the federal budget. One amendment, introduced by Walden, would prevent the FCC from enforcing rules it enacted in December to protect Internet users from discrimination online.

The other amendment, put forward by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-LA, would cut off the salary of Mark Lloyd, the agency’s chief diversity officer. Lloyd works in the FCC’s Office of the General Counsel to help the agency expand media opportunities for women, people of color, small businesses and those living in rural areas.

The FCC’s net neutrality order, adopted in December, attempts to force Internet service providers to treat all Web traffic equally; however, the new regulations apply more rigorous rules to traditional wire-based providers than wireless.

The FCC’s net neutrality regulations “prevent Internet gatekeepers like Verizon from deciding what content their subscribers can access,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, the ranking minority member on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-CA, the ranking Democrat on the Communications Subcommittee, argued that without some rules of the road, large corporations can charge “a toll for content” and block innovators “from entering the information superhighway.”

“Consumers, not corporations, should pick the content they view, listen (to) and watch over the Internet,” Eshoo said.

While both political parties have drawn a line in the sand on the net neutrality issue, this week’s hearing provided a forum for lawmakers to make their case to the public with many of the stakeholders gathered in one place.