Wireless, Cable Groups Welcome Republicans’ Net-Neutrality Push

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg News/TNS) -

Wireless and cable trade groups welcomed a Republican proposal for open-internet legislation as an alternative to regulations backed by President Barack Obama.

Trade-group officials supported the congressional proposal in testimony submitted for hearings Wednesday in the House and Senate. Lawmakers are to weigh a proposal that sponsors say would prohibit blocking or slowing of web traffic by internet-service providers, and forbid preferential treatment for payment, or paid prioritization.

Democrats said the proposal undermines the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to regulate how companies handle web traffic. Republicans said their draft bill would ensure fair treatment of internet traffic without giving the FCC authority that Obama called for in November.

“It’s an uphill battle to pass a bill” due to “important policy differences that won’t be easy to bridge,” Paul Gallant, a Washington analyst with Guggenheim Securities, said in a note Tuesday to clients.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, representing mobile carriers including U.S. leaders AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., called the draft bill released by the commerce committees in the Republican-controlled Congress “an excellent start,” according to the testimony.

Successful legislation could avoid the “regulatory limbo” that would follow if the FCC uses strong rules backed by Obama and the wireless industry sues to overturn them, Meredith Attwell Baker, president of the Washington-based trade group, said in her testimony.

Michael Powell, President of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association – with members including Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable company – called legislation “a much-needed alternative” to legal fights over the FCC action. Powell was an FCC chairman in the George W. Bush administration.

The FCC is to vote Feb. 26 on rules to be proposed by Chairman Tom Wheeler. The Democrat on Jan. 7 said his path will align with Obama’s blueprint.

The agency will consider rules next month, Shannon Gilson, an FCC spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.

The draft bill was released Friday by Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“By turning the FCC away from a heavy-handed and messy approach to regulating the internet, this draft protects both consumers who rely on internet services and innovators who create jobs,” Thune said in a news release.

The Republican proposal “would dramatically undermine the FCC’s vital role in protecting consumers and small businesses online,” four Democratic U.S. senators said in an e-mailed statement. The FCC should act “without delay,” Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Minnesota’s Al Franken and New Jersey’s Cory Booker said in the statement.