House to Reform FCC Over Net Neutrality?

A few days back the House took what is being called by some a “symbolic vote” aimed essentially at blocking the FCC’s ability to implement so-called Net Neutrality rules.

A few days ago, Republicans, in a symbolic Congressional vote, nullified the order of net neutrality issued by the FCC. A resolution for disapproval has been voted 241-178 and the House claimed that rules banning application blocking and some cases of unfair network management should be deprived of force or “effect”. Rob Woodall, Georgia Congressman, said that although the FCC needed permission to issue rules for the Internet, the House needed to reject any rules coming form the FCC.

The resolution was opposed by Democrats who argued that such a decision would threaten both innovative technologies in the United States and real jobs.

While the vote brought cheers from opponents of the Net Neutrality movement, it’s important to remember that this is far from a done deal. Thus the “symbolic” comment.

The measure still needs Senate approval, but the Republican gesture supporting large corporations is mostly symbolic and has no chance since the Obama administration had declared it would veto this resolution if it passed.

This situation once again brings up a long needed debate on two levels. From the fine detail perspective, we still haven’t resolved the question of whether or not the internet is truly the province of the FCC to begin with, and if such a body should be able to regulate internet activity, which affects commerce and a whole host of other concerns. And from a much wider view, a battle is waiting to be fought over exactly how far any executive branch office may properly go in the creation of “rules” which have the force of law completely outside of the legislative process.

The second portion may soon be getting more attention, since Greg Walden announced this week that he’s planning on hearings aimed at putting some of the FCC’s powers in check and effectively reviewing their charter.

House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden said Wednesday to look for a hearing and legislation on Federal Communications Commission reform.

The Oregon Republican and former broadcaster, speaking at the American Cable Association Summit in Washington, D.C., did not talk about specific reforms, but he is very publicly on the record in opposition to the FCC’s highest-profile rulemaking decision, the network neutrality rules passed last December.

Walden introduced a resolution, which passed the House, invalidating those rules, which he says the FCC did not have the authority to implement. Democrats have criticized the effort as a waste of time since the Senate is highly unlikely to follow suit and the President highly likely to veto it if they did.

But Walden said the FCC was a “creature of Congress,” and suggested it was Congress’ duty to keep that creature in check if it starts to run loose. “Failure to do that only gives them license to do other things they don’t have the authority to do,” he said.

This should be one to watch for, as it addresses the fundamental question I raised above. Is the FCC truly a “creature of Congress” as Walden suggests or should they operate solely at the behest of the executive branch, effectively implementing the president’s vision over such matters? In some areas, such as food safety regulations, it is clearly sensible to have a group of experts taking care of the fine points rather than tying up Congress over matters most of them are not equipped to address. But the FCC currently extends its rule making power in ways which dip into rice bowls all across the spectrum. Perhaps these hearings will result in clarifying that role.