Lawmakers Hammer FCC on Net Neutrality

Michael Hayes
WASHINGTON — Democratic lawmakers criticized the Federal Communications Commission in hearings Wednesday, saying the agency has not taken a strong stand on the issue of network neutrality.

Rep. Ed Markey, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, told the FCC that the agency needs to take a stronger stand in support of net neutrality, which means prohibiting broadband carriers from blocking or slowing content from competing firms, or accelerating the distribution of content from partners.

“[Net neutrality is an] indispensable policy for the future of the Internet,” he said.

But Markey stopped short of telling the FCC that it should develop must-carry rules for broadband providers, saying that to do so could discourage some companies from creating new technological innovations for speedy content delivery.

“I'm certainly concerned that if we subjected them to network neutrality rules, it would impede some investment,” he said.

Citing statement made by two FCC commissioners indicating that they would not enforce net neutrality with respect to the recent AT&T merger with BellSouth, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., took aim at FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

“I think it's rather extraordinary to commit to not really enforcing parts of the agreement that you voted for, and I'm asking you, what was the meaning of it?” Eshoo asked.

Martin said the provision of the agreement, which called for AT&T to maintain net neutrality for 30 months in order to get FCC approval for the merger, would be enforced.

AT&T, as opposed to the entire broadband industry, would be required to maintain net neutrality, Martin said for clarification.

Eschoo has been a strong supporter of legislation that would make net neutrality mandatory.

The hearing marked the first appearance in three years of the FCC commissioners before the House. Many Democrats said the absence of oversight in that time was emblematic of a Republican party that had let the FCC run amok.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., lashed out at the FCC, saying he was tempted to “schedule an oversight hearing in this committee every month to keep the FCC on track.”