Barton noncommittal on net-neutrality rules under Title I

The FCC floated Title II regulation in May as a way to shore up its authority to enforce net-neutrality rules, since doing so under Title I might not always pass muster in the courts. Net-neutrality rules would police how phone and cable companies deliver Internet traffic. The Title II proposal met vehement pushback from industry, the GOP and many Democratic members.

In the wake of Republican gains, analysts have predicted that the FCC may abandon the Title II proposal in favor of enforcing net-neutrality rules under the less stringent Title I.

“Political and economic forces, intertwined as they are and expressed abundantly in midterm results, increasingly favor a Title I net neutrality compromise over Title II reclassification,” telecom analyst Jeffrey Silva of Medley Global Advisors said in an analyst note last week.

It’s unclear how strongly House Republicans would work to halt the FCC’s net-neutrality rule-making if it is pursued under Title I. Committee Republicans may have bigger fish to fry than Internet traffic as they work to dismantle the healthcare law, address unemployment and stave off carbon pricing.

In the past, there has been some bipartisan agreement that net-neutrality rules may be acceptable under Title I enforcement. Republican voices such as Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin have been open to the prospect. Martin tried to enforce net-neutrality policies under Title I.

Still, a House GOP commerce aide said Barton is still a firm believer that there is no need for net-neutrality rules under any title.

“Adopting net neutrality under any title will hurt jobs and cost innovation,” he said.

Even under Title I, the FCC would still be in a jam to explain why those rules are necessary at all, he said.

“I think it would make more sense for the FCC to pivot and work with us on spectrum and USF [the Universal Service Fund],” he said. “We’ve wasted so much time on net neutrality.”

Barton is campaigning to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee when Republicans assume the majority. He is currently the ranking member. 

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