Blackburn calls Google, Netflix 'free riders'

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday accused Internet companies such as Google and Netflix of “free riding” at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The companies lobby the agency, especially on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s controversial attempts to rewrite the agency’s net neutrality rules, but do not pay regulatory fees that fund the agency, Blackburn said during a hearing of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

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“Since they seem so ready and willing to rely on regulations to help them with their business models, how would you recommend that those entities share in the cost … of funding the agency,” Blackburn, vice chairman of the Commerce Committee, asked Wheeler.

Last week, the FCC voted to move ahead with Wheeler’s plans to rewrite the net neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites before they were struck down by a federal court earlier this year.

Wheeler’s proposal asks for comment on multiple avenues to restore those rules, including allowing Internet providers to sell “fast lanes” to websites for better access to users and reclassifying Internet providers to treat them like the more heavily regulated telephone companies.

Internet companies including Netflix and Google have lobbied on the FCC to reclassify Internet providers, warning the agency that Wheeler’s “fast lane” proposal would create a tiered Internet where websites have to pay more for access to users.

“They want you to step in,” Blackburn said of the Internet companies that are “pushing the net neutrality rules.”

Meanwhile, “we have a lot of people out there who are paying fees that are not in favor of what you are doing,” she continued.

Wheeler replied that the decision to subject companies like Google and Netflix to regulatory fees is “above my pay grade.”

“We have been told by the Congress from whom we can collect regulatory fees,” he said.

“If there is a decision that we should expand regulatory authority over other entities, that’s obviously something we should do, but that’s a decision that’s out of our hands.”