Yesterday, the FCC made the bold announcement that it will begin procedings to regulate the Internet. But before the announcement was made, there was a flurry of activity to manufacture hollow support and provide cover for the FCC to make its move. Most notably, the organization Free Press declared that Congress is demanding the Commission "do whatever it takes" to begin regulating the Internet. Their justification? Two lawmakers sent a letter to the FCC.
The letter from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D) came amid an obviously false report that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski was reluctant to reclassify the Internet from an unregulated to a regulated entity, all to enact so-called Net Neutrality rules. While it is true that the two Members of Congress chair their respective chambers' commerce committees, that in no way implies the consent of Congress to do anything.
Here’s my take on the numbers: Rep. Ed Markey’s bill to enact Net Neutrality (H.R. 3458) has 24 cosponsors, while Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Sen. John McCain’s legislation that would prohibit the FCC from regulating the Internet in virtually any way (H.R. 3924) has 35 cosponsors.
On top of that, last fall 72 Democratic Representatives sent a letter to the FCC generally opposing Net Neutrality. Assuming Republicans remain opposed and those Democrats maintain their concern, by my count that’s 250-181 opposed to Net Neutrality in the House (with 4 vacant seats). In other words, 57% of the U.S. House of Representatives. Now just think how many lawmakers will be excited by the next step of not just enacting Net Neutrality, but regulating the Internet under parts of a law designed in the 1930s for traditional phone companies. My guess is probably not many.
Unfortunately, the press has chugged the kool-aid and painted this letter from Rockefeller and Waxman as an indication that Congress has the FCC's back. But then why wouldn't Congress work with the FCC to pass a bill enacting Net Neutrality and avoid the regulatory reclassification, lengthy rulemaking process, and inevitable lawsuits challenging the decision from that process? Because Congress doesn't generally support this move by the FCC and the FCC knows that.
So, Free Press and Public Knowledge have nudged a couple lawmakers in leadership positions to sign off on their radical proposal, but the numbers just don’t add up. Congress is largely not in favor of Net Neutrality, let alone reclassification. This is a merely a couple groups throwing a smokescreen over strong opposition, all to provide cover for Chairman Genachowski to undertake the radical task of regulating the Web.