Midterm Elections May Hinder Net Neutrality Rules protecting the open Internet are unlikely to pass during the lame duck session of Congress, or in the next session, as Republicans assume control of several key House committees. That leaves tech companies and public interest groups having to make the case for more regulation to the FCC. But the agency's chairman has shown little appetite for a fight with the telecom industry.
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Midterm Elections May Hinder Net Neutrality

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Midterm Elections May Hinder Net Neutrality

Midterm Elections May Hinder Net Neutrality

Midterm Elections May Hinder Net Neutrality

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Rules protecting the open Internet are unlikely to pass during the lame duck session of Congress, or in the next session, as Republicans assume control of several key House committees. That leaves tech companies and public interest groups having to make the case for more regulation to the FCC. But the agency's chairman has shown little appetite for a fight with the telecom industry.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

The recent midterm elections could affect the future of the Internet. Democrats in Congress, along with the Federal Communications Commission, had been crafting rules to protect what they call a free and open Internet. But Republicans say the Internet isn't broken, doesn't need fixing. Now with Republicans about to gain control of the House, advocates of new rules for an open Internet are pinning their fading hopes on the FCC. Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: If the debate over how to regulate broadband Internet access strikes you as dry, you're not alone. But the next chapter may get a little rowdier.

BRUCE MEHLMAN: Does the FCC say we're going to figure out a way to hammer out a compromise? Or do they say we're putting the monster truck in drive?

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE REVVING)

ROSE: OK, let's throw it in reverse for a minute. Technology companies and public interest groups want to see more regulation of broadband Internet access to ensure a level playing field for all websites and applications. An idea known by the decidedly un-rowdy phrase net neutrality. Gigi Sohn is the president of Public Knowledge, a Washington DC nonprofit.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE REVVING)

GIGI SOHN: The public wants an Internet where they are in control of what services they can access and what websites they can access.

ROSE: Again, telecom industry lobbyist Bruce Mehlman.

MEHLMAN: Without a heavy regulatory framework in place, with the marketplace being the marketplace, we've had 10 years of incredible success in broadband and broadband applications and content. What's the problem that we need to regulate to fix?

ROSE: Democrat Henry Waxman - the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee - tried to negotiate a net neutrality bill before the midterm election. Here's what he said at the time.

HENRY WAXMAN: We have spent a great deal of time with the carriers, the phone and cable companies, with the consumer groups, with the high tech groups. I think we developed as close a consensus as we possibly could. But the Republicans decided they didn't want to be part of this effort.

ROSE: Waxman hasn't said whether he'll try to revive the bill during the current lame duck session. But Republicans, who are poised to take control of the committee, including Cliff Stearns of Florida, are urging him not to.

CLIFF STEARNS: Many of us think that's the wrong avenue to present any kind of substantive issue like that in the lame duck. So I would urge Mr. Waxman not to offer net neutrality.

ROSE: That leaves advocates of a free and open Internet, like Gigi Sohn, to make the case for more regulation at the Federal Communications Commission.

SOHN: It's become eminently clear that if net neutrality is going to get done - and I believe that this FCC chairman wants it to get done - it has to be done in his house.

ROSE: FCC chairman Julius Genachowski declined to be interviewed for this story. If Genachowski does push for net neutrality now - if he decides to throw the monster truck in drive - he'll get plenty of opposition from congressional Republicans like Cliff Stearns.

STEARNS: I think it's a bad idea to let them do it unilaterally. I think Congress has the jurisdiction.

ROSE: But the FCC chairman may disagree. Whatever happens, it's a given that he will face tough questioning on Capitol Hill. And it's conceivable that Republicans would try to block funding for his agenda. But Gigi Sohn at Public Knowledge thinks it's not too late for Genachowski to get behind the wheel.

SOHN: Chairman Genachowski came to the FCC saying I'm all about consumers. I'm all about what the consumer wants. It's time for him to act on that promise.

ROSE: For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

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