Rep. Stearns trying to block FCC on broadband regulation

Days after Chairman Julius Genachowski revealed his plan to apply to broadband companies a series of rules that already govern phone providers, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) debuted legislation that he hopes will alert lawmakers to the FCC's "partisan maneuver to regulate the Internet.”

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The congressman's proposal would ultimately require the FCC to prove the economic case for regulation before imposing those new rules, he noted in a speech Tuesday on the House floor. He described that requirement as essential, given Genachowski's own assurances that the FCC under his stewardship would become a data-driven agency.

"Well, lets the the data," Stears said. "Let's see the data showing you need regulation before you do it."

While Stears' effort is unlikely to reach the chamber floor, it already has the support of Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), as well as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is piloting a similar bill in the Senate.

It also snagged the endorsement of AT&T, also a foe of the FCC's plans, which praised Stears for introducing "a bill designed to address the dynamism of the Internet while protecting consumers from harm."

"As the FCC proceeds down the path of regulating the Internet by applying 75 year-old laws developed for the black rotary telephone we are hopeful that the Congress will take a more prudent path," said Tim McKone, AT&T Executive Vice President for Federal Relations.

"At a time when the telecommunications industry is one of the few bright spots in this troubled economy, it’s critical that laws are in place that incent infrastructure investment and job creation; not over regulatory maneuvers that would create uncertainty and harm investment, innovation, jobs, and consumers. New legislation is needed and this is an encouraging first step,” he said.

Republicans in particular have lambasted the FCC in the week following Genachowski's announcement that he would change the way the agency handles broadband. The FCC embarked on that legal journey exactly one month after a federal court ruled it did not have explicit authority to regulate how Internet companies manage their networks.

The FCC has stressed it needs the new regulations to ensure the successful implementation of its National Broadband Plan -- the agenda it released per congressional order in March. They also noted their proposal would only set in place rules the commission believed it already had prior to that April court ruling.

But opponents have come to regard the commission's plans as merely an effort to institute net neutrality, the theory that broadband providers should treat all traffic equally. That belief has prompted some Republican members of Congress, Stearns included, to challenge the FCC on the grounds it is wrongfully interfering in private business.

"The FCC's announcement is a perfect example of regulation meant to help can actually hurt our policy goals while taking money out of Americans' pockets," the congressman said, noting the commission's plan would discourage "investment and innovation especially when we need it the most."

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