Ever since the Federal Communications Commission passed its controversial net neutrality rules last December, congressional Republicans have been promising to overturn the new regulations and make the FCC pay for its temerity. This week, they started the process of delivering on that promise, which still might ultimately go unfulfilled.
The FCC’s rules seek to codify the sort of Wild West nature of the Internet by forcing Internet service providers to treat all legal content equally and not, for example, delivering competitors’ content more slowly than their own. These rules may seem benign to some.
But this is the first time that the FCC has adopted enforceable rules to regulate the Internet, and so a turf war between Congress and the commission was all but inevitable. Republicans in Congress—not to mention the two Republican FCC commissioners, who voted against the rules—argue that the FCC overstepped its authority. Most Democrats say the FCC didn’t go far enough.
Those conflicting opinions were on display Tuesday and Wednesday, when House subcommittees held hearings on the matter, drawing crowds on both days. On Wednesday, all five FCC commissioners were on hand to be grilled by subcommittee members.
Still, the hearings ended up being more show than substance. There wasn’t much animosity on display, but even so, neither hearing ended up bringing anything new to the debate.
This week saw important moves on the legislative front as well. On Tuesday, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who chairs the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, introduced an amendment to the continuing budget resolution that the House is considering. Walden’s amendment, which prohibits the FCC from using any of the funds contained in the resolution to implement the new rules, was approved by voice vote on Thursday. The resolution, as expected, was passed by the Republican-controlled House 244-181. It's unlikely to make it past the Democrats who run the Senate. And if it did, it would face President Barack Obama's veto pen.
The GOP is ready with another plan in case Walden’s method doesn’t succeed. Republicans in both the House and Senate have introduced identical resolutions of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act that would reverse the FCC’s rules. Because the Congressional Review Act doesn’t allow for a filibuster in the Senate, these measures have a better chance of passage, but they too would face Obama’s veto.
So despite all the noise in Congress this past week, this fight is still likely to be resolved in court. Both Verizon and MetroPCS have filed challenges to the new rules with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The same court ruled last year that the FCC lacks the authority to regulate the Internet.