Waxman says net neutrality bill dead, FCC should assert regulatory authority
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) confirmed Wednesday afternoon that his net neutrality bill was effectively scrapped after Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) declined to support the legislation.
In a statement, Waxman urged the Federal Communications Commission to reassert its authority to regulate broadband access providers. Doing so would allow the FCC to create its own net neutrality rules -- an effort that was thrown into doubt when a federal court ruled the agency overstepped its authority by sanctioning Comcast for allegedly violating broadband rules.
Waxman said he and his staff had worked with public interest groups, Internet service providers and Web content companies to try to reach an agreement around a bill that all parties could support. Waxman, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said he had also kept Republican members on the committee abreast of his work. He said it was essential to gain Republican support for the bill.
"With great regret, I must report that ranking member Barton has informed me that support for this legislation will not be forthcoming at this time," Waxman said in a statement.
"This development is a loss for consumers and a gain only for the extremes. We need to break the deadlock on net neutrality so that we can focus on building the most open and robust Internet possible," Waxman said.
He said legislation could still be introduced in this Congress. But analysts say that after the mid-term elections, it will be harder to pass a law to regulate Internet service providers in a Republican-dominated Congress.
"If our efforts to find bipartisan consensus fail, the FCC should move forward under Title II," Waxman said. "The bottom line is that we must protect the open Internet. If Congress can’t act, the FCC must."
Gigi Sohn, president of media reform group Public Knowledge, agreed that the FCC needed to reclassify broadband services in order to carry out its push for net neutrality rules.
“We expect the FCC to do so to carry out one of the fundamental promises of the Obama Administration," said Sohn, who was involved in talks with Waxman.
Barton said Republican lawmakers didn't feel like there was enough time to create a bill that wouldn't hurt investment in broaband networks. He also warned against the FCC's proposal to reclassify broadband services. He said Waxman's efforts were a result of problem's created by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who has proposed to re-regulate broadband.
“With Chairman Waxman’s effort comes a tacit admission that the FCC is going down the wrong path, a path that will stifle investment and create regulatory overhang in one of the most dynamic sectors of our economy," Barton said. "If the Congress wants to prevent the FCC reclassifying internet service under Title II it should go ahead and do so without qualification."
| September 29, 2010; 5:02 PM ET
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