Continuing his efforts to protect consumers, boost innovation, and maintain an open internet, Representative Greg Walden (R-Hood River) called on Congress to pass a permanent legislative solution to net neutrality. “The fact is, since its creation the internet has been the single most important driver of economic growth, job creation, and a better quality of life for all Americans,” said Walden during an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing today. “How we address the future of the internet will impact generations of Americans to come and deserves an open and honest public debate.”
Walden has introduced legislation that codifies into law permanent prohibitions on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization for internet traffic, and requires that internet service providers (ISPs) be transparent in their network management practices and prices. Walden’s legislation reaffirms longstanding, bipartisan agreements on net neutrality protections, and is identical to legislation Walden introduced in 2015, when the Obama Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed outdated restrictions on the internet. The 2015 action by the FCC regulated internet service under Title II of the Communications Act, which was originally used to govern monopoly telephone companies in the 1930s.
“Republicans and Democrats actually agree on these key parameters of a free and open internet. We can agree on a permanent solution to address blocking, as well as throttling, and yes even that untested practice known as paid prioritization,” said Walden.
Walden said that the 2015 net neutrality rule gave, “big government unlimited authority to micromanage every single aspect of a provider’s business, that includes setting rates. There is nothing neutral about this kind of authority.”
Testifying during today’s hearing was Joe Franell, Chief Executive Officer of Eastern Oregon Telecom based in Hermiston, Oregon. Walden invited Mr. Franell to testify about how the application of Title II regulations on internet service restricted the ability of Eastern Oregon Telecom to provide broadband in rural communities.
“For me, this debate is very much about the impact on providers like him who are trying to close the digital divide,” said Walden. “Heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all regulations hurt small internet service providers like Eastern Oregon Telecom the most, and this in turn hurts their ability to expand broadband to underserved communities in rural America.”
Eastern Oregon Telecom CEO Joe Franell testifies during today’s hearing. Click here or on the image above to view Mr. Franell’s remarks
“I would argue that it was that freedom from regulation that allowed the internet to begin to realize its potential,” said Mr. Franell. “The application of Title II as part of net neutrality had a dramatic chilling effect on rural telecommunication in the Pacific Northwest and I suspect the same could be said about the rest of the country. The uncertainty of the regulatory environment, even on non-regulated telecommunication providers and internet service providers like Eastern Oregon Telecom, made investors hesitant to invest in the telecommunications sector.”
Mr. Franell testified that addressing net neutrality through legislation rather than regulatory action is the proper course on this issue. “Every dollar I spend reporting to regulatory agencies is a dollar I don’t have available to invest in new infrastructure to serve rural eastern Oregon and southeast Washington. Instead of adding to that burden, I encourage you to consider leaving the long-standing Title I regulation of the internet in place, abandon any initiative to reinstate Title II through legislation, and address the anti-competitive abuses that everyone fears with light touch surgical precision,” said Franell.
Walden said that it is up to Congress to act on a net neutrality solution through the legislative process, something the Democratic Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone (D-NJ), agrees with. During the hearing, Walden said that he is committed to working in a bipartisan manner to achieve this goal.
“A permanent, legislative solution produced in good faith with our Democratic colleagues is the only way to protect consumers, innovation, and an open internet. I am once again asking my friends across the aisle, to work with us on a bipartisan solution,” said Walden. “We can do this while making sure the internet continues to flourish under a light touch regulatory regime that will help us expand broadband access and bridge the digital divide.”
PHOTO: Walden listens to testimony from Joe Franell (seated center at witness table), CEO of Eastern Oregon Telecom, regarding the “chilling effect” of heavy-handed regulations on the expansion of rural broadband.