How a GOP Senate Takeover Could Impact Net Neutrality, Piracy Fights

A Republican majority “could bring a chilly reception for any FCC effort to increase its role in digital media,” says the WGA East’s Lowell Peterson

As Americans head to the polls Tuesday, the results could affect future efforts to bolster a worldwide fight against movie piracy and the net neutrality battle, among other issues.

Entertainment industry and consumer groups say a possible GOP takeover of the U.S. Senate is unlikely to change the Obama administration’s priorities, but it could change the reception that those priorities get on Capitol Hill.

First on the list they suggest is net neutrality. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is reviewing options for preserving an open Internet and one option is net neutrality conditions.

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A GOP takeover “could bring a chilly reception for any FCC effort to increase its role in digital media,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America East.

Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the consumer group Free Press, doesn’t think the FCC will change what it does, but it is likely to have a lot more explaining to do.

“In the end the Senate becomes a bigger headache,” he said.

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The Senate Commerce Committee is now headed by retiring West Virginia Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller who has repeatedly pushed unsuccessfully to control violent media, and has also been a supporter of net neutrality. A Republican takeover would likely make South Dakota Sen. John Thune chairman.

In a June speech, Thune questioned the FCC pursuit of net neutrality. He said the commission was looking at two alternative theories to undertake the regulation and questioned the wisdom of both of them.

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Instead of net neutrality, Thune suggested Congress try to rewrite the nation’s communications laws to deal with any issues. A GOP takeover would put him in a position to do just that and to strongly question the FCC if it moved forward with net neutrality.

A rewrite of the country’s communications laws under the GOP could have other impacts as well. It might lead to changes that would allow big media companies to buy more television stations. A Republican majority could also press for an easing of newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership rules in the same local media market.

Additionally, a GOP takeover could decide the entertainment industry’s success in seizing on international trade talks to boost anti-piracy enforcement worldwide. A leaked draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement the U.S. is negotiating with 11 other countries indicates that each country signing the agreement would have to take steps to better combat piracy.

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A final agreement still hasn’t been reached, but a GOP majority could boost the chance of the agreement getting ratified despite concerns by some Democratic labor groups.

Then again, one consumer group official said a switchover could also increase its chances of getting derailed by Tea Party Republicans.

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