Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, is leading the first legislative effort to roll back the federal government’s decision to start regulating the Internet as a utility, calling Thursday’s action by the Federal Communications Commission the start of the “Obamanet” and a guarantee of more taxes for Internet consumers.
On Thursday, by a party line 3-2 vote, the FCC approved a plan commonly known as net neutrality, but which critics like Blackburn see as unnecessary government intrusion into the private sector.
“This is the day the Obamanet was born,” said Blackburn, who is vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “The Internet is not broken. It does not need the FCC’s help and assistance in order to be productive or profitable.”
Coverage and analysis of the FCC’s net neutrality decision has been fairly limited, with both experts and consumers finding the issue very complicated. Blackburn says the impact of this is clear and very significant.
“The FCC will now reclassify broadband services from an information service to a telecommunications service. They will do this under a 1930s-era law, the Telecommunications Act. They will thereby subject the Internet to taxes, regulation, international considerations that are now put on our wire-lined phones. So this is a step backward, it is not a step forward,” said Blackburn, who stresses that the private market was serving consumers just fine.
“It’s a sad day when you see the Federal Communications Commission coming in and preceding your Internet service provider, your ISP, in the governance of the Internet. Basically, what you’re going to see is the FCC will now be able to assign priority and value to content because they will be in charge of controlling pricing and fees,” she said.
Blackburn says higher taxes on your Internet bill are not a possibility but a guarantee. And how much more will Americans be paying?
“You’ve got estimates that run from a few billion dollars in additional taxes to as high as $15 billion. So at this point, I think it’s ‘pick a number’, but everybody agrees the cost is going to go up because of taxes and fees,” said Blackburn.
In short, Blackburn says the government is stepping in to control something that didn’t need rescuing.
“Whether it is packaging and pricing or the availability of broadband, you now have given the control over this to the FCC to decide what areas of the country get what speeds, what type of businesses get access to what speeds,” said Blackburn. “It allows the FCC to now begin picking winners and losers.”
Blackburn is launching the first piece of legislation aimed at rolling back the FCC plan, joining with Sen. Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, to repeal a specific provision that trumps their states’ laws on broadband service. The FCC upheld petitions from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, that would allow their broadband rules to be placed on residents outside their jurisdictions.
“Let’s say you have County A that goes in and they work with the FCC and they get a grant that helps them stand up a municipal broadband network. Well, they decide, ‘We need more customers on this network,’ so they go into adjoining counties B,C and D and say, ‘We will provide this service for you. What you have then done is to make counties B,C and D subject to the governing body of County A,” said Blackburn, noting that county would then have the power to set pricing and speed levels for people who do not live within their borders.
Her bill with Sen. Tillis would block that.
“The legislation that Sen. Tillis and I filed yesterday would prohibit these municipal broadband networks from going into these other areas and expanding their footprint,” she said, while again slamming the federal government for needlessly trying to trump state law.
“If they want to do it for their own constituents within their own footprint then fine. But it doesn’t take the federal government coming in and pre-empting state law and pre-empting local law to do that. They have no right to do that and they ought not to be doing that,” said Blackburn.
The net neutrality controversy comes at the same time members of Congress are fiercely debating whether President Obama had the power to unilaterally approve the legalization of five million adults in the U.S. illegally. Blackburn, who calls the FCC a group of “unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats,” sees a disturbing pattern.
“It is more of this overreach and quite frankly, I think the American people are growing weary of this. They don’t think one city ought to be able to override another and get into the broadband business competing with the private sector,” she said.
While she isn’t sure if the Senate will find the votes to pass her bill or others likely to be drafted in response to the FCC, Blackburn says Republicans are ready to fight over her bill and the larger issues at stake.
“I think they’re pretty fired up and you’re going to see us move forward with our legislation. Of course, I’ve had the bill that would block net neutrality for about three and a half years , so it’s time to move it forward now so we can nip this in the bud before they get a chance to put it on the books,” said Blackburn.