The Net Neutrality Drama Train Heads To Congress

Let’s presume for the moment that you did not awake early this morning, straining to tune into C-SPAN, excited to watch a nearly three-hour congressional hearing in the House concerning a recent vote held by the FCC on how to best undergird new regulations of Internet service providers, along with certain questions relating to procedure, and edge provider interconnection.

I thought not. You had better things to do. TechCrunch did not. We are here to help.

Yes, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler did sit before a cattle call of House members, receiving, in alternating fashion, consistent praise or vitriol. Briefly, and this is from a surface reading of my time spent staring blankly into monitors this fine morning in the San Francisco fog, Wheeler is either single-handedly destroying the engine that leads to dynamic innovation online, or he is, in fact, the only thing standing between said innovation and rapacious corporations.

So things are about where we left them when the FCC voted three to two to enact a new set of net neutrality regulations that include the reclassification of broadband under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

If you need to get caught up on bullshit and buzzwords, we have a compendium for you.

Today mattered for more than a minor grip of reasons. The least of which being that Wheeler had a decent showing, even as our Congressional junior varsity did its collective best to prevent him from getting the occasional word in. Recycled talking points were in vogue.

Wheeler’s lack of implosion was buttressed by a number of other events. Namely:

  • The Inspector General of the FCC, and independent entity inside of an independent agency, is investigating the team over process leading to its net neutrality vote. Here’s The Hill quoting Rep. Jason Chaffetz, whose committee ran today’s do: “It’s my understanding that it’s not an audit, not an inspection, but its an actual investigation. […] I don’t have any other details. I just know that they’ve opened an investigation.” The FCC didn’t have anything to say and the Office of the Inspector General is demurring even confirming that the investigation exists.
  • Chairman Wheeler had terse comments as to whether he would cooperate with the investigation: “Of course.”
  • Dozens of tech companies threw together a letter praising the FCC for its recent vote. The list includes public companies such as Yelp, and Zynga, not to mention other well-known technology shops including Medium, Reddit, and BuzzFeed.
  • Perhaps most humorously, however, during the morning’s proceeding, while the House majority tried to paint the Chairman as the President’s own bought man, it came to light that one FCC commissioner — whom I shall leave nameless — previously asked a lobbyist to edit an op-ed he was writing for a political publication on the issue of net neutrality. Irony so thick it comes with its own frosting.

All this is preamble for our next chapters. The Chairman has a number of other impending Congressional trips on his calendar. And then we have lawsuits, my birthday in July, and so forth. A long docket. Today, however, saw a retrenching of the calcified battle lines of this issue.