Ensign: Regulating the Internet a "major mistake"

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) warned Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski not to change a provision of the law that would allow the agency to regulate the Internet.

"There's a real cost to heavier regulation," Ensign said during a hearing today to examine the proposed NBC Universal-Comcast merger. "We have to be so careful with this miracle of investment in the Internet...We want to continue to see that investment."

Consumer and public interest groups are pressing the FCC to reclassify broadband as a communications service, or Title 2, which would give the FCC more authority to implement network neutrality regulations. Currently, broadband is classified as an information service under Title 1.

A federal court in January questioned the FCC's jurisdiction under the current classification to order Comcast to stop throttling customers' Internet traffic.

If the court does rule against the FCC in that case, the FCC would need to reclassify broadband in the law to enact net neutrality.

In response to Ensign, Genachowski said the FCC's top job right now is to develop policies that will promote universal broadband.

"It's a major issue of global competitiveness for the United States," Genachowski said. "We are defending the position that Title 1 (classification) gives us the authority we need. We'll continue to assert that position and hope we will get a favorable decision. If the court does something that requires us to reassess, we'll do that."

Ensign said that, regardless of the court decision, "it could be a major, major mistake" to reclassify broadband.

"This issue needs to be aired out and discussed so we can consider all the options," Ensign said. 

Update (12:13 p.m.): Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison also spoke out against the possible reclassification today.

“It would be an enormous mistake to reclassify vibrant new services under a regulatory regime that is as relevant to the current marketplace as the horse drawn carriage is to modern interstate travel," she said. "Burdensome new regulations would starve investment and curtail innovation. I am disappointed to learn the FCC continues to think this is worthy of consideration.”