House Republicans: FTC should take the lead on net neutrality

Republicans on a House panel want the country’s antitrust regulators, not its telecom regulators, to take the lead on net neutrality.

During a Friday hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Law, Republicans questioned the need for net neutrality regulation from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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“The Internet has flourished precisely because it is a deregulated market” and should be kept open through “vigorous application of the antitrust laws,” House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said.

The issue of net neutrality has become a hot button issue for lawmakers as FCC attempts to rewrite its 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.

“As regulatory proceedings continue to stretch on, a question I have is whether there might be a more efficient and more effective way to safeguard against potential discriminatory behavior than federal rulemaking,” Subcommittee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said in his opening statement.

“That is where antitrust law comes in.”

Goodlatte pushed antitrust law as a way for regulators to go after anticompetitive behavior from all players in the Internet ecosystem instead of just Internet providers.

He also pushed for evidence that Internet providers are behaving in a way that warrants FCC intervention in the form of net neutrality rules and said the agency should conduct a cost-benefit analysis “before regulating such an important component of our national economy.”

Subcommittee Democrats pushed back, applauding the FCC for attempting to rewrite the rules.

“Congress created the FCC to develop the expertise so that it could properly regulate the complex telecommunications industry,” Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) said in his opening statement.

“Any FCC rules to address net neutrality could have the benefit of addressing some potential threats to net neutrality before they fully materialize” and “would be more comprehensive than the piecemeal approach of antitrust enforcement,” he said.

Subcommittee ranking member Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) called the country’s antitrust regulatory structure “a poor fit” to protect “non-economic values like openness and freedom of expression.”

The FCC “has been at the forefront of crafting regulations that not only encourage growth and competition, but also advance non-economic values like equality of opportunity and fairness,” he said in his opening statement.