ICYMI: Johnson Questions FCC Over Net Neutrality Regulations

WASHINGTON – Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, questioned Chairman Tom Wheeler of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday about how the FCC arrived at its decision to regulate the Internet as a public utility.

VIDEO: Click here for Sen. Johnson’s full remarks.

Johnson had the following exchange with FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai:

Johnson: “I was actually shocked at the chairman’s statement during his opening statement that the FCC was going to ‘get out of the way and let innovation and competition reign.’ Commissioner Pai, do you think regulating the Internet under Title II is getting out of the way and letting innovation and competition — can you describe what’s been happening in terms of innovation and investment in broadband and Internet after this ruling.”

Pai: “Thank you for the question, Senator. I do not think it is getting out of the way of innovation and investment. And the agency itself didn’t think that until November 10th of 2014. I think what we’ve seen in 2015 is the fact that among both major wireline broadband providers and small providers that investment and innovation is slowing. And for example, we’ve heard from a number of small wireless ISPs, one of whom testified to Congress just last month that she is shelving plans to upgrade her network in rural Arkansas to serve her customers precisely because of the uncertainty and the burden posed by these regulations. Among major providers, we’ve seen the first-ever decline in broadband wireline investment in the modern, in the Internet age, outside of the tech bubble bursting in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008. Now, I think that it is telling that some of these major companies are now spending billions of dollars on companies like AOL or even putting their investments abroad, and that’s because presumably they think the return on the investment is now greater in areas outside of the broadband infrastructure, and that’s an unfortunate thing for the American consumer.”

Johnson: “So possibly, with a little bit more public notice, a more robust record, maybe we would not have gone down this, what I think is a very harmful path?”

Pai: “The internal documents in your report prove that. If you look at the report, email after email suggest the FCC career staff, and I once was one of them, said we do not believe there is adequate notice for all these separate areas. Nine separate aspects of the plan were thought to be lacking in terms of public input.”

Background

Chairman Johnson released a report Monday, “Regulating the Internet: How the White House Bowled Over FCC Independence,” detailing how the Federal Communications Commission arrived at its decision to regulate the Internet like a public utility only after the president called for such a heavy-handed regime and how, in the process, career FCC staff raised serious administrative law questions about the shift. 

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