Week ahead: Battle lines drawn over net neutrality

Week ahead: Battle lines drawn over net neutrality
© Greg Nash

All eyes are on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as the agency's Republican chairman looks to kill the controversial Obama-era net neutrality regulations.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday unveiled his plans to roll back the internet rules, which require broadband providers to treat all web traffic equally.

Pai would hand over regulation of internet service providers from the FCC back to another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, by repealing the provision that allows those companies to be regulated similar to public utilities.

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In place of the rules, he'd allow companies to voluntarily enforce net neutrality's principles, by including them in their terms of service with customers.

Telecom companies, who had long fought the rules, including in court, hailed Pai's proposal. Critics have long claimed the rules are heavy-handed and stifle innovation in broadband.

But Democrats and consumer groups are vowing to mobilize public support to try and save the rules. When the FCC moved to approve the rules in the Obama administration, millions filed comments in support.

While Pai appears to have a clear path to rolling back the rules, both sides are digging in for one of the year's biggest regulatory fights.

Four Republican chairs, Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's 12:30 Report: White House, Dems debate coronavirus relief package The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Key 48 hours loom as negotiators push for relief deal Trump dismisses legal questions on GOP nomination speech at White House MORE (S.D.) and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: INOVIO R&D Chief Kate Broderick 'completely confident' world will develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine; GOP boxed in on virus negotiations Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers zero in on Twitter after massive hack | US, UK, Canada allege Russian hackers targeted COVID-19 vaccine researchers | Top EU court rules data transfer deal with the US is illegal Lawmakers zero in on Twitter following massive hack MORE (Miss.); and Reps. Greg Walden (Ore.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans GOP may face choice on tax cut or stimulus checks MORE (Tenn.), praised Pai.

"Consumers want an open internet that doesn't discriminate on content and protects free speech and consumer privacy," they said.

Some Republicans are hopeful Pai will force Dems to the table to negotiate a permanent legislative fix on the net neutrality debate.

But Democrats seem unwilling and believe the public is on their side in supporting the rules.

Former Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who approved the rules, along with Sens. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenCNN publishes first Al Franken op-ed since resignation Political world mourns loss of comedian Jerry Stiller Maher to Tara Reade on timing of sexual assault allegation: 'Why wait until Biden is our only hope?' MORE (D-Minn.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns MORE (D-Ore.) blasted the proposal to undo net neutrality in a Washington Post op-ed. 

"It's amazing that Trump, having promised to stand up to the powerful on behalf of ordinary Americans, now has an FCC that gives the powerful what they ask for -- even if it hurts consumers," the Dems wrote.

"So with powerful forces pushing to get rid of net neutrality -- Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and other multibillion-dollar companies -- it's going to take Americans speaking up to protect the Internet that we depend on. In 2014, nearly 4 million Americans contacted the FCC, with an overwhelming majority sending a very simple message: protect net neutrality."

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to look at the responses to the increase in religious hate crimes. 

On Wednesday, the committee will hear testimony from FBI Director James Comey. 

The hearing Wednesday is on the "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" and will reportedly mark the first time Comey has publicly appeared before a Senate committee since the start of the Trump administration. 

Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee in March and confirmed then that the FBI was investigating Russia's meddling in the presidential election and any potential ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow. 

On Tuesday, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health will look at ways to improve the regulation of medical technology.

On Wednesday, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee will hold a hearing a hearing to discuss regulatory issues with maritime transportation. 

And the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Regulated Agencies will hold a hearing on "Oversight of the 2020 Census." 

Census Bureau Director John Thompson is expected to testify along with the Robert Goldenkoff, the director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office.