Cruz looking to blunt FCC authority

 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is looking to strip the Federal Communications Commission of its ability to write new net neutrality rules.

The senator is currently circulating draft legislation that would undercut the commission’s legal authority to write new regulations governing the way that Internet service providers treat different streams of traffic online.

Cruz “has serious concerns about the course the FCC is pursuing on net neutrality and on the questionable authority on which it’s relying,” spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said in an email to The Hill. “He is exploring legislative options to preserve the freedom of the Internet to remain an engine for jobs, growth and opportunity, and we have been in touch with other offices to that end.”

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A federal appeals court earlier this year ruled that the FCC’s existing net neutrality rules were not justified under current law. At the same time, the court opened the door for the commission to write new rules under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which gives it the power to encourage and regulate broadband infrastructure.

A draft version of Cruz’s bill obtained by The Hill would eliminate from current law provisions that allow the FCC to “promote competition in the local telecommunications market” and remove “barriers to infrastructure investment.”

Instead, the law would be changed to focus on “pursuing regulatory forbearance.”

The effort comes as the FCC is considering a controversial proposal that would ensure Internet service providers allow a baseline level of access to all websites but also permit deals with certain companies to boost their users’ Web speeds.

The proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has come under fire from lawmakers and critics on both sides of the aisle. While Democrats have worried that it would create a “two-tiered” Internet with different levels of service, Republicans object to the notion of government intrusion on the Web.  

On Tuesday evening, Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said that Congress, not the FCC, should take the lead on regulating the Web.

“The FCC should respect its regulatory limits and Congress should do its job to address these concerns,” the two said in a joint statement. “In the meantime, any policy adopted by the FCC should continue to respect the ‘light touch’ regime that has led to industry investment and a thriving Internet ecosystem.”

In addition to the Section 706 authority, Wheeler is also considering reclassifying the Internet so that it could be regulated like a telephone company.

Reclassifying broadband service would be a radical step and congressional Republicans on Tuesday sent letters warning the commission not to go that far.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other GOP Senate leaders told Wheeler in a letter that reclassifying broadband Internet would “create tremendous legal and marketplace uncertainty and would undermine your ability to effectively lead the FCC.”

Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee issued a similar warning in a separate letter.