SPONSORED:

House Republicans invite tech, telecom CEOs to testify on net neutrality

House Republicans invite tech, telecom CEOs to testify on net neutrality
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are asking the CEOs of majory technology and telecommunications companies to weigh in on the net neutrality debate as the Federal Communications Commission moves to repeal the Obama-era rules.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a hearing on Tuesday that he has invited the executives to testify before the panel on September 7 to settle the debate.

“A strong consensus is forming across party lines and across industries that it’s time for Congress to call a halt on the back-and-forth and set clear net neutrality ground rules for the internet,” Walden said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The move comes as Republicans have been pressuring Democrats to come to the negotiating table to work out a legislative replacement to the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which are in the process of being repealed by the agency’s Republican leaders.

Democrats and net neutrality supporters have argued that any such bill would unnecessarily water down current FCC protections that require internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally.

Walden sent invitations to the chief executives of Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google parent company Alphabet, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter Communications.

The major tech companies have all voiced support for the FCC’s net neutrality rules but have also showed a willingness to support a legislative compromise on the issue. Republicans are hoping that they will say as much during a hearing before the committee to pressure Democrats.

“Your company has played a significant part in the public conversation to date, and your input would be invaluable as we start to move beyond conversation toward bipartisan legislation the prevents anticompetitive practices such as throttling and blocking,” Walden wrote in one of the letters, sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“With your help, I know we can craft a fair, predictable and sustainable solution that not only benefits Edge Providers and Internet Service Providers, but also the billions of consumers worldwide that deserve a free and open internet.”

A Facebook spokesman said the company is still reviewing the invitation.

The FCC voted in May to move forward with Republican Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to repeal the rules and roll back the agency’s authority to regulate internet service providers. Most major Silicon Valley companies rallied in support of the rules, but have increasingly shown that they would be open to an alternative.

Zuckerberg has already indicated that he would support Congress coming up with legislation.

“Right now, the FCC has rules in place to make sure the internet continues to be an open platform for everyone,” he wrote in a post during an online net neutrality demonstration this month. “At Facebook, we strongly support those rules. We're also open to working with members of Congress and anyone else on laws to protect net neutrality.”

Spokespersons for Google, Netflix and Amazon either declined to comment or didn’t respond to inquiries.

Meanwhile, the major internet service providers have been outspoken in their opposition to the FCC rules, but have also echoed Republicans’ calls for net neutrality legislation. They argue that the FCC went too far in its legal framework for the regulations by reclassifying internet service providers as common carriers.

The telecom industry also wants legislation to end the regulatory back and forth at the FCC on net neutrality they fear will take place every time a new administration comes into office.

“This issue has been a political football for more than a decade,” Tim McKone, AT&T’s vice president of federal relations, wrote in a blog post praising Walden for the move.

“It is the job of Congress, not expert agencies, to resolve this kind of a fundamental question regarding the appropriate policy for regulation of the internet. Relying on administrative agencies to decide issues that are essentially political undermines the entire justification for agency decision making.”

Democrats on the committee quickly blasted their counterparts over the newly-announced hearing, and asked that they invite witnesses aside from major CEOs to testify.

"In your announcement of the hearing, you said the Chief Executive Officers from eight of the largest corporations in the world with a combined market capitalization of nearly $2.5 trillion had been invited to testify," Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) wrote in a letter to Walden Tuesday afternoon.

"Although you stated the hearing was an inquiry into the 'internet ecosystem,' you once again failed to recognize how important the internet is for consumers, small businesses, entrepreneurs, political organizers, public interest groups, and people looking for work."

This story was updated at 4:55 p.m.