Republicans weigh path forward after net neutrality ruling

Republicans weigh path forward after net neutrality ruling
© Greg Nash

Republican lawmakers on Tuesday said they were still weighing how to move forward after a court upheld the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) sweeping rules to ensure net neutrality across the web.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who chairs the tech subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Republicans were looking at all of their options.

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"So, I think that door remains open to look at this legislatively,” he said. "But I also think that between now any legislation moving forward you’ll see an appeal by those who disagree with the court’s decision.”

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed the FCC a victory on Tuesday morning by declining petitions filed by trade groups challenging the rules. The regulations, approved last February, were meant to protect the idea of net neutrality, or the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated the same way.

Republicans have assailed the rules as an example of government overreach.

Walden said he had doubts about whether President Obama would sign off on any compromise legislation regarding the rules, especially given the court’s decision.

“We’ll be evaluating it and look forward to what paths are there, but clearly with President Obama in the White House the odds of him signing a net neutrality reform bill are pretty low,” Walden said. 

Walden and Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said in a statement they were "disappointed" by the ruling.

Republicans in both chambers released draft legislation before the FCC voted on their proposal aimed at protecting users from many of the same behaviors as the rules without changing the classification of internet service. Since then, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate passes resolution reaffirming commitment to peaceful transition of power Susan Collins faces political land mine with Supreme Court fight Abortion stirs GOP tensions in Supreme Court fight MORE (R-S.D.) and ranking Democrat Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonDemocrats sound alarm on possible election chaos Trump, facing trouble in Florida, goes all in NASA names DC headquarters after agency's first Black female engineer Mary W. Jackson MORE (D-Fla.) have taken the lead on reaching a compromise on the FCC rules. 

Thune hinted at hopes that Congress could move forward with a solution.

“Today’s decision is a clear signal that my colleagues and I need to reestablish Congress’ appropriate role in setting communications policy on a bipartisan basis,” he said in a statement with Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Key Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google Senate panel threatens subpoena for Google, Facebook and Twitter executives MORE (R-Miss.). 

Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Key Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google Senate panel threatens subpoena for Google, Facebook and Twitter executives MORE (R-Tenn.), who backs legislation blocking the rules, said that she thought the ruling improved the chances of legislative action on the regulations.

“I think it does,” she said.

"Well, of course, I would have preferred a different ruling,” she said. "Everybody probably understands that and we will continue to push forward.”

But one Democratic lawmaker predicted his party would be less interested in striking a deal now that the court battle went their way.

"You know, it’s the ruling we wanted," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who is an active voice on communications policy. "The reason to work on legislation was that both sides of this debate had the possibility of an adverse ruling.

"Now that it’s been settled by the courts, there’s less of an incentive to legislate."

Democratic lawmakers cheered the court’s decision as a victory for the open internet.

“Today's decision will help ensure we don't turn over our democracy to the highest bidder,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, said on Twitter.

Sanders was joined by Capitol Hill colleagues in embracing the ruling.

“We’re just learning that the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the FCC’s Open Internet rules,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at a Tuesday morning hearing.

“I haven’t had time to review the court’s decision yet, but it seems it was a big win for consumers, and it puts the FCC’s privacy proposals on firm legal ground.”

In a later statement, Pallone said the decision "is a momentous step to legal certainty that the internet remains an open platform for everyone."

Nelson hailed the ruling as well, calling it “a significant milestone for consumer protections on the internet.” 

Others were more jubilant.

“The Internet will remain free and open for all!” tweeted Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

— Updated at 1:52 p.m.