House committee debates FCC's net neutrality rule

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, March 25, 2015 - House Judiciary Committee members heard arguments - and made their own - for and against the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) finalized Open Internet Order that reclassifies broadband Internet access service as a public utility service.

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Democrat proponents of the FCC's rule, known as net neutrality, say it will complement existing antitrust laws, and for that reason, will enhance competition among broadband providers.

Existing antitrust laws ban monopolies and duopolies, but they don't protect Internet consumers' right to diverse and open discourse on the World Wide Web, said the committee's ranking member, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in his opening statement. The new rule would go a step further than those laws by “address(ing) the non-economic goals of net neutrality, including the promotion of innovation and the protection of free speech and political debate.”

The committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., argued that classifying broadband as a utility, and regulating it as such, will “slow broadband speeds,” “reduce consumer choice” and “raise Internet service costs,” because Internet service providers (ISPs) will have little economic incentive to invest in infrastructure and service quality if they don't know where they stand legally.  

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“Nothing chills investment faster than regulatory uncertainty, and this order is the definition of it,” Goodlatte said.

The net neutrality order, adopted by FCC in late February, establishes internet providers as “carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

While the rule stipulates that over half of the regulatory provisions within Title II do not apply to Internet carriers, ISPs are still considered “utilities” and are required to comply with three “clear, bright-line rules,” which prohibit them from blocking Internet destinations, throttling internet services and from offering paid prioritization that would require users to pay for internet “fast lanes.”

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