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Net neutrality supporters rally outside the FCC headquarters last year. (Photo: Joe Newman/flickr/cc)

In Net Neutrality Fight, Both Sides Gear Up for Long Haul

FCC signals readiness to fight for protections of open internet against opposition from Congress and cable industry

Nadia Prupis

A week after the Federal Communications Commission passed a landmark vote enshrining protections for net neutrality and mobile broadband, Republicans and cable industry giants are reiterating their vows to fight the ruling—but new comments by FCC chief Tom Wheeler indicate that the commission is ready to take them on.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who heads the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, on Wednesday said during an industry summit hosted by the American Cable Association that the FCC's new rules are "a total overreach," calling them "illogical and illegal."

The Republican-majority subcommittee spoke openly against the reforms in an 11th-hour meeting before the FCC's vote last week, hearing testimony from industry representatives on the "legal, economic and policy uncertainties" of the new rules.

Over the past year, internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast have also lobbied heavily against the regulations, strongly hinting that they are willing to sue to overturn them and claiming that they may hurt consumers and investors.

But Wheeler, who on Tuesday spoke at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, signaled that the commission is ready to defend net neutrality for the long haul.

"Those who were opposed to the open internet rules always liked to say, 'this is terrible, Depression-era monopoly regulation,' but the fact of the matter is we took the Title II concept and we modernized it," Wheeler said during a public question and answer session. "We built our model for net neutrality on the regulatory model that has been wildly successful in the United States for mobile."

Under one new rule, consumers will be able to complain about excessive bills and seek relief from the FCC—a rule which has garnered rancor from ISPs that claim it is tantamount to imposing tariffs on carriers. But as Wheeler explained on Tuesday, "There are no broad stroke regulations saying 'this is how you will do this.' That's old school regulation."

Rather, the FCC is operating under the "very simple statement that says 'no government or private entity will block people's access to use the network as a vehicle for expression and innovation,'" Wheeler continued.

The Communications and Technology Subcommittee is due to approve the FCC's budget on Wednesday, which will allow the panel to criticize the new rules and Wheeler's championing of strong net neutrality protections. "We intend to do our due diligence," Walden said Wednesday.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), one of the more vocal supporters of net neutrality, called the FCC's ruling last week an "enormous victory."

"But the fight isn't over as some Republicans are already working on legislation to undo all of this," he warned at the time. "So in the weeks and months ahead, I will continue to make sure everyone understands what's at stake, and why we need to stand by the strong rules adopted by the FCC."

In an interview with CNET on Tuesday, Franken said that concerns from right-leaning members of Congress over lost investments due to stricter internet regulations are a "false worry."

"The purpose of these rules is to simply preserve net neutrality and to make sure things don't change," Franken said. "I don't think it's the intent of anyone who has been for preserving net neutrality to impose stricter regulation."

In a speech last July, Franken called net neutrality "the First Amendment issue of our time."

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