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Senators Debate FCC Net Neutrality Curbs: It is a ‘Nanny State Regulation’

Among the high-profile commentators on the issue were Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken

The FCC was inundated with comments on its proposal to set rules of the road for the Internet this week, and the Senate Judiciary Committee weighed in with a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

Among the high-profile commentators on the issue were Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who labeled an attempt by the FCC to mandate an open Internet as a “nanny state regulation.” While Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken countered it is “all about preserving the Internet as it is.”

Also read: FCC Deluged With More Than 1 Million Comments About Net Neutrality

Hollywood writer Ruth Livier called it “a civil rights issue,” and warned that without FCC action, media choices for “diverse voices” again would be subject to the big media companies’ whims.

Also at the hearing, senators and witnesses offered sharply different viewpoints on what the agency should do. Republicans urged the FCC to take a very light regulatory approach and warned the agency against taking actions that could hamper investment and hurt the Web’s growth.

“The FCC’s latest invention would only serve to stifle innovation and subject the Internet to nanny state regulation from Washington,” said Cruz. “The Internet has grown and flourished in ways we never could have imagined from the days that Al Gore invented it and part of the reason is that Washington has left the Internet alone.”

Also readFCC Votes to Propose New Net Neutrality Laws, Open Internet Now Subject to Debate

Other Republicans agreed. “Without government regulation, the Internet is growing — so what is the problem? What is broken?” asked Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. “What are we talking about?”

Democrats urged the agency to take strong action to ensure the Internet of tomorrow resembles the Internet of today, a place where dorm startups have as much chance of succeeding as sites of major companies.

“This isn’t about new regulations. It is about preserving what we have,” said Franken, noting that YouTube was once a startup competing with a Google video service.

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

Turning to a witness, he questioned what could happen if the FCC fails to act to prevent service providers from creating and charging a toll for use of their fast lane. “Isn’t this about squelching innovation?” he asked one witness.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said a single lane Internet has “an equalizing effect …  if the Internet becomes two tiers, we will have the haves and the have nots.”

Livier, a writer-director who conceived the web-based series “Ylse,” followed up comments she made to the FCC as part of a Writers Guild of America-West filing on Monday with a personal plea to senators. The Web has “empowered and motivated historically-marginalized communities to take the reins of our own hands and create content knowing there is a distribution outlet for it,” she said.

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“The same companies that distribute traditional media control Internet services. They are advancing an agenda of unenforceable rules that would allow them to be the gatekeepers and decide what content is available online and on what terms. We cannot allow this to happen,” she added.