Tea Party groups out against net neutrality

Tea Party groups are staking out an anti-regulatory position in the fight over net neutrality rules for phone and cable companies.

A coalition that included 35 Tea Party groups sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday urging the agency not to boost its authority over broadband providers through a controversial process known as reclassification.

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The process could give federal regulators the power to impose net neutrality rules, which would prevent Internet access providers from favoring some content and applications over others.

The Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation was among the groups that signed the letter. Jamie Radtke, the group’s chairman, said interest in net neutrality is rising in the Tea Party movement.

“I’ve heard it talked about a lot more on conference calls I’ve been on [recently],” Radtke said. “It’s starting to get onto the radar now.”

Radke said the Tea Party opposition to net neutrality stems from concerns over increased government power.

“I think the clearest thing is it’s an affront to free speech and free markets,” she said.

She said more Tea Party groups plan to make time to focus on net neutrality ahead of the midterm elections.

“There are so many assaults on individual liberties — the EPA, net neutrality, cap-and-trade, card-check; the list goes on — that sometimes the Tea Party doesn’t know where to start its battles,” Radtke said.

Phone and cable companies have argued that increased regulation of Internet practices could have a detrimental effect on the industry. They argue that tough regulations could deter network investments and hinder the expansion of broadband infrastructure.

The free-speech objection to net neutrality has also gained some ground recently. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and AT&T began citing First Amendment objections to net neutrality in public discussions and in filings with the FCC this year.

The free-speech argument holds that, by interfering with how phone and cable companies deliver Internet traffic, the government would be thwarting the free-speech rights of providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.

Activism around net neutrality soared this month after Google and Verizon announced a proposal for how such regulations could be organized and enforced.

Groups from MoveOn.org on the left to Americans for Tax Reform on the right are raising money on the net neutrality issue. Political analysts say that the reclassification of broadband by the FCC could be a headache for Democrats if it happens ahead of the midterm elections.