CBC head wants Congress to take lead on Web rules

Greg Nash

Unlike most Democrats, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus wants a legislative fix on net neutrality. 

Rep. G.K. ButterfieldG.K. ButterfieldBlack Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP GOP leadership critic finds way around alleged retribution Black Dems rip Trump as 'racial arsonist' over 'birther' controversy MORE (D-N.C.) said the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) rule-making process has been "politically driven" by special interests and Congress needs to get involved. He did not, however, give support to any specific plan. 

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"They’ve made a rule change under Title II of the Communications Act that’s going to regulate broadband just like utility and phone companies, and we need to get Congress involved," he told Politics365.com. "Congress needs to come in and establish broadband policy going forward."

His words break with many in the Democratic Party who have lauded the FCC's rules. 

Butterfield questioned, however, whether Congress has the political will to get anything passed, given the partisan dynamics. He said he would help outline the legislative record so that "one day, we can get it done."

He said he supports the principles of net neutrality, like preventing service providers from blocking or throttling traffic. But there is not always agreement on which authority should be used to enforce the rules.

"When you start getting in the weeds, the issue gets very complicated," he said. "And that’s why Congress needs to develop sound broadband policy. Congress has the power to do it, but the question is, does it have the political will to do it?"

Butterfield warned of the lack of permanence of the FCC's rules.

“These commissioners don’t serve for life, so when the new commissioners come in, they can reverse what these commissioners have done," he said. "So we need to write into the law good consumer protections and something that individuals and companies can depend on."

Republicans have failed to get any Democrats to sign on to draft legislation that would enact many net neutrality rules supported by advocates, but also roll back some authority at the FCC. Some Democrats have remained open to legislation, but not in its current form. 

House Republicans on the Commerce Committee are also partway into a multi-year process to rewrite the nation's communications laws. 

Butterfield previously warned the FCC against reclassifying broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service, as the commission did last month. Last year, he signed on to a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saying the reclassification plan could have "adverse consequences."