House chairman eyes Web rules, immigration reform

The head of the House Judiciary Committee has big plans to focus on U.S. spying, immigration and net neutrality in the new Congress.

Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteRosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week Conservative pressure on Sessions grows Clock ticking down on NSA surveillance powers MORE (R-Va.) told reporters on Wednesday that he was committed to policies that would help companies grow on the Internet.

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At the top of the list are expected new rules out of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would limit Internet service companies such as Comcast from interfering with people’s access to various websites.

Instead of issuing new rules next month, which are expected to declare that Internet service should be regulated like a public utility, Goodlatte has said that existing antitrust rules give regulators all the power they need to prevent unfairness on the Web.

“The Internet doesn’t need an inflexible ‘one-size-fits-all’ government mandate to ensure net neutrality,” he said. “These time-trusted [antitrust] laws allow for maximum flexibility and consistently demonstrate their ability to prevent discriminatory and anti-competitive conduct in the marketplace.”

The stance could point toward an intraparty dispute over net neutrality. Even while Goodlatte spoke with reporters in a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor, fellow Republican leaders issued an op-ed outlining their plan to write a law codifying new limitations for the Internet.

Goodlatte has also begun work on a new online sales tax bill, after Senate-passed legislation was unable to reach the House floor in December.

“We should create a level playing field so that online, bricks-and-mortar and bricks-and-clicks businesses can compete under fair rules,” he said on Wednesday, while hoping to “move forward quickly.”

Goodlatte also outlined plans to reform the nation’s patent laws — another issue that failed to reach the finish line last year — and continue a “comprehensive review” of copyright law.

The chairman pressed for a “step-by-step approach” to immigration, including increased enforcement and “common-sense changes” to allow more high-skilled workers into the country.

Finally, lawmakers need to come together on a plan to either reform the National Security Agency (NSA) or reauthorize some key provisions by June 1, potentially setting up a major battle on the issue

Goodlatte, whose panel pushed forward a reform bill last year, pledged to balance national security and Americans’ civil liberties.

“Our government, elected by the people, must provide for the common defense and simultaneously secure the blessings of liberty now and for the generations to come,” he said.