The Senate GOP’s Net Neutrality Obstacles

Photo by Michael Vadon via flickr

A push by some GOP committee chairmen to seek a bipartisan net neutrality bill has already drawn vehement opposition from conservatives in the House. And now it’s likely to face opposition from the party’s right wing in the Senate.

“We’re going to have a continued discussion in the Senate about how to stop the FCC’s illegal attempt to transform the Internet into a public utility,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said yesterday in an interview. “It is directly contrary to law; it is likely to be struck down in the federal courts.”

Cruz is among a cohort of GOP lawmakers, such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who are striking a combative tone not just with the Obama administration, but with their party leadership as well.

“I understand there may be a lot of members of the House or the Senate who want to make a strong statement,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in an interview this week. “But we’re going to try and reserve the right to negotiate with Democrats to possibly get a legislative solution.”

Thune, along House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), has been reaching out to Democrats in pushing legislation that would impose the principles of net neutrality while rolling back the FCC’s public utility classification.

But Republicans like Cruz are even challenging the premise of net neutrality. He said Congress should reverse the FCC’s 3-2 decision on Feb. 26 to regulate the internet as a public utility.

“I hope that Congress acts even before the litigation concludes to prevent the Obama administration from stifling innovation, destroying jobs and hurting the little guy online,” he said.

While no lawsuits have been filed yet against the rules, internet service providers are widely expected to take the FCC to court.

“The issue of ISPs creating different speed lanes is not the injustice that it is made out to be,” Rubio wrote in an op-ed this week. “There are hardly any cases of it to begin with, and any deals that do take place are just as likely to benefit consumers by allowing highly trafficked sites to accommodate their visitors.”

Speaking at South By Southwest on Sunday, Paul said net neutrality was anticompetitive, saying the market should sort out who pays what for data.

“We shouldn’t interfere with the marketplace to say that more volume shouldn’t get a lower price or that more speed shouldn’t get a bigger price,” he said.

Earlier this month in the House, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet, introduced H.R. 1212, which would roll back the FCC decision without imposing net neutrality. The measure has 43 cosponsors – all Republicans.

That approach is likely to garner support from the likes of Paul and Rubio who have questioned the underlying logic behind of the FCC’s ruling.

Conservative members of the GOP have made it clear that they favor the pre-net neutrality status quo over any compromise option. But if a bipartisan bill emerges, conservative Republicans will have to weigh the opportunity to reverse the FCC’s ruling against the prospect of enshrining net neutrality in law. Any measure that does the former without doing the latter will likely meet with a veto from President Barack Obama.

“We like the status quo,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who sits on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told reporters this week. “We like where it’s at today. But if they’re going to do something, don’t do the most onerous approach – which is what they decided to do.”

Still, Thune and his supporters may be able to look across the aisle to replace hard-right senators who might balk at a deal that legislates net neutrality.

“I remain open to true bipartisan congressional action provided that such action fully protects consumers, does not undercut the FCC’s role, and leaves the agency with flexible, forward-looking authority to respond to changes in the dynamic broadband marketplace,” Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the ranking Democrat on the Commerce Committee, said at a hearing this week.

So far, he is the only Democrat who has signaled strong support for a bipartisan approach.

Morning Consult