FCC members spar over net neutrality at hearing

FCC members spar over net neutrality at hearing

A disagreement between Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler and GOP Commissioner Ajit Pai over net neutrality become heated during a congressional hearing Wednesday.

A question from Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won't pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS 'cyber caliphate' GOP chairman warns of ISIS's ‘cyber caliphate’ Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him MORE (R-Wis.) over whether the rules approved a year ago had hurt investments in Internet networks sparked a testy exchange.

Pai claimed that investment slowed down in 2015 for major broadband providers and smaller ISPs.

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"I do not think it is getting out of the way of innovation and investment," he said.

But Wheeler directly contested that claim.

“With all due respect to my colleague, what he has just portrayed as facts are not,” Wheeler responded.

“Investment is up ... fiber is up 13 percent over last year. Usage of the Internet is up and that has driven what you want to be up, which is increased revenue per subscriber for the Internet companies in the last year since the Open Internet Order took place.”

Pai continued to criticize the FCC's broadband policies.

“It’s no accident the regulatory infrastructure we have built is now depressing broadband investment," Pai told the committee.

But Wheeler insisted that was not true.

“We are not seeing a decline in broadband infrastructure investment," he responded. “You can say it and say it and say it but it doesn’t make it a fact.”

Both Pai and Wheeler claimed the facts were on their side and offered to submit backing evidence. Pai offered sworn declarations from numerous Internet service providers that the new net neutrality rules had hurt investment.

Wheeler countered by pointing to data from major companies such as AT&T and Verizon on investment.

The FCC's landmark decision to hand down net neutrality rules last year have sparked a contentious fight and legal challenges.

The rules require Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally. Consumer groups hail the rules as necessary to protect the open Internet. But many Republicans see the rules as burdensome on business.

Both sides are divided over whether the rules have encouraged companies to scale back investing in broadband infrastructure.