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Congressmen Rip FCC Open Internet Plan From Both Sides

”You didn’t hit this out of the ballpark,“ Congressman Henry Waxman tells FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Congressmen on Tuesday accused Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler of doing too much to regulate the web on one hand while also doing too little on the other.

At a hearing of a panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the FCC proposal to take some steps to preserve an open internet but not others drew catcalls from a number of Republicans for going overboard and threatening future investments in web products and technology upgrades.

“Many of our content creators have a tremendous amount of concern your actions have inserted a good bit of uncertainty in all things internet,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

Also read: Net Neutrality Supporters Aim to Push FCC Further

The panel’s chairman, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., described Wheeler as being in “rough waters.”

Walden suggested that Wheeler’s willingness to examine the possibility of even stronger open internet regulation and his attempt to prevent broadcasters from controlling stations they don’t technically own, could hurt local communities.

“These changes do not bring benefits to the communities served by these broadcasters, drawing into question how this change could serve the public interest,” Walden said.

Also read: FCC Votes to Propose New Net Neutrality Laws, Open Internet Now Subject to Debate

Democrats meanwhile questioned why Wheeler wasn’t seeking far stronger open internet rules, rules that would completely ban internet service providers from offering paid prioritization that gives some content providers a faster, better path to consumers.

“The internet is a continuum of change. It is accessible. It is open,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. “It is not the time to unravel the values that have been the bulwark of the internet. I don’t want this to become an auction where we are selling off the best in bits and pieces, where some pay for faster lanes while others get stuck in the slow lane. … Some giant company is blocking content and others discriminate so they can sell their stuff and keep the other guy stymied.”

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., told Wheeler the FCC needs to take stronger action.

“You didn’t hit this out of the ballpark,” Waxman said. “You shouldn’t water down the open internet rules. You should get the substance right.”

Also read: Hollywood Needs Net Neutrality, Too (Guest Blog)

Waxman suggested the FCC approve strong rules and then use a “belt and suspenders” approach to fend off legal challenges. He suggested the FCC justify them both under its authority to regulate an “information service” and as a telephone line service and let courts decide which is sufficient.

Wheeler said the FCC is in an impossible position in the debate over Open Internet rules with two court rulings to follow and a debate with two sides.

He said since the FCC proposed its Open Internet rules, there has been a “great outpouring” of people speaking in the press about the proposal. He said the problem for the FCC is that the voices don’t just disagree, they completely disagree.

“They offer two diametrically opposing positions,” he said.