Hatch signals early GOP blockade against net neutrality legislation

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) late Tuesday praised a federal appeals court for ruling the FCC's attempts to instate network neutrality rules are beyond its legal mandate.

In a statement hailing that decision, Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Republican High-Tech Task Force, described the court's move as "critical to those who've been fighting to keep the ever-expanding hand of government off the Internet."

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"It’s clear that the FCC overstepped its authority with an aggressive agenda of more and more regulation at the expense of the American people," Hatch said. "This is also good news for the future prosperity of the Internet, because there is now an actual incentive to expand capacity, which benefits consumers and our economy alike.”

If anything, Hatch's statement is but a preview of the coming congressional battle over net neutrality -- the principle that networks ought not to interfere with users' Web traffic.

Tuesday's court ruling, which found the FCC was wrong to sanction Comcast in 2008 for blocking its users' access to a file-sharing service, means it could require an act of Congress for the agency to begin regulating broadband services once again.

But bringing that legislation to the floor and advancing it to the president's desk could prove exceptionally difficult, as the net neutrality debate largely follows party lines.

Most Democrats, including President Barack Obama, believe the rules would ensure open access to Web content, while a majority of Republicans view the entire net neutrality movement as an attempt to regulate what is at its most basic a private industry.

GOPers have thus long promised to scuttle such legislation, to the delight of telecommunications companies that also view net neutrality as a threat on their ability to manage their own network resources.

“Yet despite an overwhelming record of innovation, and customer satisfaction, Washington wants to replace the judgment of consumers with that of politicians and bureaucrats," Hatch wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in October, with the support of S.C. Senator Jim DeMint (R). "Net neutrality may sound like fairness but it is actually the opposite."