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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology asked the Federal Communications Commission’s leadership a broad range of questions during a regular agency oversight hearing.

Most of the questioning revolved around the agency’s recent proposal to reinstate the FCC’s authority over broadband-internet access under Title II of the Communications Act. Doing so would empower the agency to protect the open internet and hold companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon accountable for harms to internet users across the United States. Republican subcommittee members also questioned the FCC’s implementation of digital-nondiscrimination laws enacted in the 2021 bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R–Ohio) insisted that the FCC “has pursued a federal government takeover of the internet,” claiming against all available evidence that restoring Title II rules “would make [broadband] deployment more difficult.” In his written testimony, Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr foolishly argued that the single goal of the Biden administration’s communications policy is “increasing government control of the internet.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel brushed away these concerns in her written testimony, saying that the agency needs to have “a uniform legal framework that applies to the whole country,” and not just to the handful of states that have passed Net Neutrality laws.

“[W]e know that broadband is a necessity, not a luxury,” Rosenworcel said. “We know that every consumer should be able to go where they want and do what they want online without their broadband provider engaging in throttling, blocking or paid prioritization. And every consumer deserves broadband that is fast, open, and fair.”

Free Press Action General Counsel and Vice President of Policy Matt Wood said:

“Again and again at today’s hearing, Republican leaders on the subcommittee and at the FCC complained about how the agency’s popular common-sense proposals allegedly place burdens on the broadband industry. What the GOP comically and falsely calls a ‘Biden broadband takeover’ is actually nothing more than a long-overdue makeover. It couldn’t be any clearer: House Republicans see big business and industry incumbents as their constituents, not the people back home in their districts who rely on internet access in every aspect of their daily lives.

“Imagine politicians being so out of touch with people’s concerns and experiences. No one in America sits around extolling the virtues of their cable and phone companies. No one trusts those providers’ pinky-swears to provide high-quality, reliable and affordable service on just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory terms. It’s only inside the Beltway that lobbyists get away with acting like utility is a dirty word. In truth, oversight of giant and monopolistic but essential service providers is a popular idea.

“Thankfully, the Democratic majority at the FCC and the Democratic members of the subcommittee focused on real problems, undeterred by the phony panic and industry-authored lies about Title II, digital-nondiscrimination laws and the agency’s wildly successful Affordable Connectivity Program. Democratic representatives unanimously called for renewed congressional funding of this affordability initiative, which is helping one-in-six households in the country afford steep monthly broadband bills.

“Nothing today could or should change this FCC’s resolve to restore its proper authority over broadband. It fell to states like California to reinstate Net Neutrality protections after the Trump FCC abdicated its responsibility and congressional mandate to make sure our communications networks are open and reliable. No matter how many times Republican detractors lie about broadband investment, performance and pricing under Title II and after its repeal, the truth is plain to see and the way forward is perfectly clear.”

Background: In October, the FCC voted to begin a rulemaking process to reinstate Net Neutrality protections and give the agency proper oversight of internet-access providers. The agency can restore these protections by reclassifying high-speed internet access as telecommunications services under Title II of the Communications Act. This Title II authority was stripped away in 2017, when the Trump FCC reclassified broadband access as an “information service,” severely limiting the agency’s ability to safeguard internet users from broadband providers’ abuses. The move was widely rejected by people across the political spectrum, who, according to recent polling, still strongly believe that the FCC must have the authority it needs to protect an open, reliable and affordable internet.

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