Under the Trump Administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has embraced a rollback of the previous administration's Net Neutrality policy, much to the chagrin of consumer advocates and many media companies.
Now, Congress has signaled its intention to get involved. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has announced he will invite the CEOs of leading tech companies that are on opposite sides to appear at a Sept. 7 hearing on the issue.
Walden made the announcement at Tuesday's hearing on FCC funding and oversight. While Net Neutrality has largely been seen as a Democratic Party issue, Walden says a "strong consensus" has formed across party lines that it's time for Congress to get involved and set clear ground rules for the internet.
“In some form or another, we have been working for at least 20 years on the intertwined goals of incentivizing the huge investments needed to connect Americans, while keeping the internet open and protecting consumer privacy," Walden said. "With almost everyone in agreement about fundamental principles to prevent anti-competitive behavior such as throttling and blocking, I think we are closer than ever to achieving a lasting resolution. The time has come to get everyone to the table and get this figured out.”
To that end, Walden says the committee has invited the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, and Netflix, along with broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Charter Communications to appear before the full committee.
Contrasting points of view
The media companies and the ISPs may present very different points of view. Media companies say the internet should treat all content the same, and not favor some over other. ISP's generally argue that they paid to build out their networks and that they should not be treated as public utilities.
Consumer advocates who support Net Neutrality worry about a "slippery slope" if the FCC reverses course, and allows ISPs to favor content from large companies over that produced by small companies and non-profit groups.
Some Republicans in Congress have complained that the FCC under President Obama exceeded its authority when it adopted the Net Neutrality rule, benefiting some companies at the expense of others. Walden's announcement suggests lawmakers may be ready to enter the debate, looking to resolve the matter with legislation rather than regulations.