GOP pushes back on net neutrality bill at testy hearing

GOP pushes back on net neutrality bill at testy hearing
© Greg Nash

GOP lawmakers pushed back on Democrats' proposed net neutrality bill at a testy hearing on Tuesday, calling the legislation "extreme" and overly partisan, while saying it would be dead on arrival in the Senate. 

Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce technology subcommittee, called the bill a "non-starter," pointing out that it opens up the broadband industry to regulations that Republicans have long opposed. 

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"Instead of engaging with us to try to solve the problem, my colleagues have retrenched back to the most extreme position in this debate," Latta said. "[The bill] has no chance of even passing the Senate or being signed into law." 

The Save the Internet Act, introduced by Democrats last week, would restore Obama-era regulations on the broadband industry.

The bill would codify the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Open Internet Order into law, reigniting a debate between Republicans and Democrats over whether the FCC should have the legal authority to enforce net neutrality rules. 

Under the Democrats' bill, the broadband industry would be classified as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act — a designation which opens up the industry to more stringent regulations enforced by the FCC. 

The "Title II" designation has long been a sticking point for Republicans. 

Republicans at the hearing repeatedly promoted a trio of bills recently introduced by Latta, Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenHouse Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access Here are the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats on the Equality Act MORE (R-Ore.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersLawmakers celebrate 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote The GOP's commitment to electing talented women can help party retake the House McCain and Dingell: Inspiring a stronger Congress MORE (R-Wash.), which would reimpose some net neutrality rules without using "Title II." 

McMorris Rodgers called the bills "reasonable," while witnesses and some Democratic lawmakers criticized them as weak on internet service providers. 

The hearing was marked by sharp digs on both sides, with Democrats flexing their powers in the majority while some Republicans directed their criticism toward witnesses appearing before the panel. 

At one point, Rep. Billy LongWilliam (Billy) H. LongT-Mobile merger poses more questions than answers GOP pushes back on net neutrality bill at testy hearing The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal MORE (R-Mo.) pressed Matt Wood, the vice president of policy and general counsel with consumer advocacy group Free Press, over his organization's tactics on Twitter.

Long asked Wood, a longtime advocate for net neutrality rules, to reveal "how many fundraising emails" his organizations sent out and how much money it raised through those emails. 

The Missouri Republican went on to accuse Free Press and other consumer groups of "attacking" him on Twitter over his support for "bipartisan legislation" on net neutrality. 

"Quit attacking people on Twitter when we are trying to do things in a bipartisan fashion," Long said. 

Fight for the Future, another group that supports strong net neutrality rules, shortly after tweeted, "Aw, thanks for the shout out." 

A coalition of consumer groups has started to intensify pressure on lawmakers to support the net neutrality bill, in particular focusing on the only Democrat who did not support the companion legislation in the Senate — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). 

Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleHouse Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group Phone carriers tell feds they have mostly stopped sharing location data MORE (Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce technology panel, maintained that Democrats are interested in working with Republicans on the bill.

He slammed the Republicans for failing to "inform" their Democratic colleagues about the bills in advance.

"After being in the majority for so long, it might be difficult for some of my colleagues to recognize that they’re not anymore," Doyle said. "A better approach would be to sit down and get in touch with us before you drop bills." 

Rep. Darren SotoDarren Michael SotoImmigration bills move forward amid political upheaval McCain and Dingell: Inspiring a stronger Congress Hispanic grass-roots groups warn 2020 Dems not to overlook them MORE (D-Fla.) called the bill an "opening offer," indicating that he and other Democrats are open to "amendments" from Republicans on the committee. 

"We’ll have a markup so this bill’s not just messaging," Soto said, adding it is "not true" to say that there is no chance the bill will pass.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed interest in net neutrality rules that would prevent internet service providers from blocking, slowing down or speeding up any content. But the parties remain deeply divided over how to prevent that form of web discrimination.

Doyle told reporters after the hearing he anticipates a subcommittee markup before the end of the month. 

Updated at 4:32 p.m.