US Congress wants tech CEOs to testify on net neutrality

Congressional intervention could end the battle between the FCC and tech firms

House Republicans have asked leaders of technology companies and telecom service providers to appear before Congress to deliver their arguments on net neutrality, in a bid to replace the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC's) current rules.

The FCC, backed by President Donald Trump, is currently trying to scrap net neutrality regulations it introduced under former President Barack Obama that prevent internet service providers from throttling traffic to specific websites, such as Netflix and YouTube.

Ajit Pai, the FCC's chief under Trump, wants to roll back net neutrality rules that classify internet service providers as common carriers, who are therefore subject to rules governing the internet as a public utility, preventing them from providing 'fast lanes' for internet traffic. However, many technology companies believe the rules are fundamental to ensuring an equal playing field for companies to operate in.

Previous FCC regulations on the matter have already been challenged in the courts by internet providers, and while FCC changes to the rules would likely be passed given its Republican majority, net neutrality supporters could throw up legal roadblocks.

The current FCC campaign marks the third time in recent years that the group has presided over net neutrality, but given that the body is appointed by the incumbent president, internet policy could continue to change depending on which party is in power.

To end the battle between pro and anti-net neutrality camps, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Republican Greg Walden, has asked companies including Google, Facebook, AT&T and Verizon to testify at a hearing on 7 September, with a view to getting Congress to rule on the matter.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Walden said: "It's time for Congress to call a halt on the back-and-forth and set clear net neutrality ground rules for the internet. With almost everyone in agreement about fundamental principles to prevent anti-competitive behaviour such as throttling and blocking, I think we are closer than ever to achieving a lasting solution."

"The time has come to get everyone to the table and get this figured out," added Walden. Other invitees include the heads of Comcast, Charter Communications, and Netflix.

Fellow Republican and vice chairman Marsha Blackburn, said the original FCC net neutrality ruling in 2015 under President Obama "pushed far beyond its legal authority" and that it created an "unstable set of mandates and a mountain of unanswered questions".

"The ensuring drama has benefitted certain interest groups but has been detrimental for American innovators and consumers, who experience and reliance on the internet are diminished by the lack of clear and predictable rules," added Blackburn.

The hope is that a joint debate on the subject will allow both sides to reshape the current regulations and "build new rules from the ground up" through Congress, according to Walden.

Both sides of the argument have expressed a will for Congress to intervene, with laws passed by Congress tending to be more robust than judgements made by agencies.

Picture: Bigstock

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