One House Republican hinted at legislation that would specifically prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from limiting the amount providers can charge for Internet service.
During a House Energy and Commerce hearing Thursday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said Congress is free to legislate, but added that is already what his agency has promised.
"I have said repeatedly that we are not trying to regulate rates and that, again, if Congress wants to do something in that regard, that's Congress's authority," he said under questioning from Rep. Adam KinzingerAdam Daniel KinzingerKevin McCarthy is hostage to the GOP's 'exotic wing' GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Ill.) late in the four-hour hearing.
Republicans and other critics have warned that the FCC's new net neutrality order, which proposes to regulate broadband Internet as a telecommunications service, opens up the future possibility of rate regulation.
The order avoids applying many of the more onerous sections of the law that come along with reclassification, including rate regulation. But even Democratic commissioners have noted they would have to consider complaints about Internet rates under a broad standard that prevents unjust or unreasonable practices.
Wheeler has argued repeatedly that he does not expect this kind of complaint, judging from the lack of similar complaints in the mobile voice market, which is governed by similar rules. He has also strongly hinted that any such complaint would be denied.
Wheeler said he would relish such a complaint during his tenure, if only to build a strong record against rate regulation.
"If this comes before us while I'm there, I hope that — without prejudging the issue — that we can build a record that will make it difficult for that to happen," Wheeler said. "Congress clearly has the authority to do so."
Republican lawmakers across the spectrum are considering proposals to block or replace the rules, which all face long odds. Kinzinger hinted at a narrow provision to clarify that the FCC has no authority to regulate Internet rates. His office did not respond when asked whether he planned on introducing the proposal.
"So if legislation that said: 'Notwithstanding any provision of law, the Federal Communications Commission may not regulate the rates charged for broadband Internet access service' — that would be consistent with that view?" Kinzinger asked.
"That is what we are trying to accomplish," Wheeler responded.