Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) punctuated several hours of Senate floor debate on net neutrality Wednesday afternoon by forcefully dismissing arguments that overturning the Federal Communications Commission’s rules would jeopardize the freedom of the Internet.
Rubio went through a litany of innovations and achievements of the technology industry in recent years, including the expansion of broadband, tablet computers, mobile devices and the creation of jobs despite the recession, noting all took place before the FCC’s Open Internet Order.
“Yet the proponents of Internet regulation claim that the freedom and growth of the Internet are in jeopardy,” Rubio said, calling such arguments “ridiculous.”
“To suggest that some type of regulation is needed flies in the face of the growth of the Internet economy.”
His remarks came during debate on a resolution to overturn the FCC’s net-neutrality rules, which are scheduled to take effect Nov. 20. The rules would ban broadband providers from discriminating between two similar content providers.
A vote on the resolution is expected Thursday, but the White House has already threatened a veto if it should pass. Net neutrality was part of Obama’s campaign platform, and his administration has framed the rules as vital to preventing corporate control over the Internet.
The House passed a similar resolution this summer, and Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) repeatedly exhorted her colleagues to do the same during the debate, arguing that the rules would stifle innovation and were an example of bureaucrats trying to write laws instead of Congress.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) argued that the FCC’s rules take a light-touch approach and keep the playing field even for smaller companies and innovators. Like many net-neutrality supporters, he said he would have preferred stronger rules that would also cover wireless providers, which are exempt from the FCC’s order.
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) repeated his previous assertion that net neutrality is “the free speech issue of our time” and called the resolution a distraction from creating jobs.
Franken said opponents of net neutrality are driven by misinformation and noted that no major telecom firms have publicly backed the attempt to overturn the rules.
Rubio suggested the FCC was following a pattern of over-regulation that has stifled the U.S. economy.
“We are regulating where regulation is not needed,” he said. “We are regulating based on speculation, regulating in search of a problem.”
Several Democrats noted that the past two FCC chairmen, both Republicans, pursued similar net-neutrality policies. A federal court threw out the FCC’s previous attempt at enforcing the doctrine against Comcast last year, prompting the FCC to pass new rules last December.
The agency already faces a host of legal challenges from both the right and the left, meaning a federal court will likely have the last word on whether the rules ultimately take effect.