Republican leaders to Obama: Net neutrality regulations are harmful

House Republican leaders Friday sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to direct the Federal Communications Commission against adopting net neutrality rules.

Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) said in the letter that the FCC should instead focus its resources on developing the national broadband plan as mandated by Congress. Any regulations that would prohibit Internet service providers from managing their networks, they said, would discourage those companies from investing the billions of dollars needed to expand broadband access.

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“We believe that network neutrality regulations would actually thwart further broadband investment and availability, and that a well-reasoned broadband plan would confirm our view,” the pair wrote in the letter. “So to hastily begin the process of adopting network neutrality rules months before issuing such a plan implies that politics are driving the FCC’s decision-making process.”

Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed strengthening the agency’s current guidelines on net neutrality by formally adopting them as regulation. He also proposed two additional rules, including one aimed at preventing Internet companies from discriminating against any traffic to certain types of content or services. In other words, all traffic would have to be treated the same.

Net neutrality was a cornerstone of Obama’s technology priorities during his campaign. Genachowski, his top campaign tech adviser, was a key architect behind those plans.

Major broadband providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have argued that the agency’s existing guidelines are sufficient and that no additional regulations are needed. They have also said some network management practices are needed in order to make sure broadband services reliably reach all their customers.

Boehner and Cantor said broadband investment would be in jeopardy if the FCC “micromanages” network management.

“As Americans wade through the current economic situation, a decision by the FCC to discourage broadband investment would be irresponsible,” they said. “The United States needs broadband providers to increase investment and create jobs. This will not occur if broadband providers are saddled with unnecessary, burdensome requirements that interfere with their ability to manage their networks and create innovative broadband products that maximize consumer choice and benefit.”

Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, responded that the net neutrality issue has been under debate for more than four years and that the previous Republican administration also took steps to prevent Internet companies from discriminating against certain types of traffic.

“To suggest this is a radical policy u-turn is simply incorrect,” Erickson said in a statement. “In fact, it is critical to investment that this issue be addressed sooner rather than later—further delay in addressing this core policy issue will harm investment flows into new and innovative technologies.”

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, pointed out that Obama supported Genachowski’s move to formalize net neutrality principles.

"Net Neutrality is simply a guarantee of fairness, a prohibition on discrimination,” she said. “Telephone, cable and wireless companies will still manage their networks and will still invest as they wish. Putting the telephone, cable and wireless companies in control of the content, however, is a recipe for economic disaster.”