Republicans Raise Concerns About FCC’s Broadband Regulations

Concerns aired in a congressional hearing over President Biden’s broadband takeover plan, as FCC’s expanded authority faces scrutiny by FCC commissioner.
Republicans Raise Concerns About FCC’s Broadband Regulations
Federal Communication Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Communications and Technology Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill Dec. 5, 2019, in Washington, (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Savannah Hulsey Pointer

Republicans and a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) official have expressed concerns about the Biden administration’s attempts to increase regulatory control over the Internet and affiliated services.

In a recent hearing before the Communications and Technology Subcommittee on Nov. 30, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel faced scrutiny from House Energy and Commerce Full Committee Chairwoman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

The hearing, titled “Oversight of President Biden’s Broadband Takeover,” delved into the implications of the proposed changes to the FCC’s role and authority in regulating interstate and international communications.

The White House announced their plan to bolster broadband by spending $42 billion to make access to high-speed broadband universal by 2030. Of concern to some in attendance was Ms. Rosenworcel’s related proposal to restore net neutrality rules and re-establish the FCC’s authority over broadband providers under Title II.

The chairwoman’s plan includes exerting additional authority over the internet, including establishing “basic rules” for Internet Service Providers as well as an effort to “reclassify broadband internet access to give the FCC and its national security partners the tools needed to defend our networks from potential security threats,” among other measures.

Ms. Rodgers voiced her concerns about the far-reaching impact of President Biden’s plan, including possible consequences for ordinary business, and argued that the proposed regulations might discourage innovation, harm efforts to close the digital divide, and compromise the nation’s leadership in next-generation technology. She emphasized the need for Congress, not the FCC, to make changes to laws governing the evolving media marketplace.

The FCC’s Authority

During the hearing, Ms. Rodgers raised questions about the FCC’s adoption of digital discrimination rules, arguing that the agency exceeded its congressional mandate. She questioned the FCC’s authority to regulate various aspects of business decisions, including pricing, contract terms, and marketing campaigns, which extend beyond the agency’s jurisdiction.

“Where did the FCC find this authority? And what expertise does the FCC even have to regulate these practices?” Ms. Rogers asked.

Ms. Rosenworcel defended the agency’s actions, citing a broad mandate from the bipartisan infrastructure law, which directs the FCC to prevent and eliminate digital discrimination without limiting its scope to specific providers or terms and conditions.

“The bipartisan infrastructure law told us conclusively to prevent and eliminate digital discrimination,” the FCC chairwoman said. “You did not limit it to only the internet service providers. You didn’t limit it to only some terms and conditions. The language in the statute is exceptionally broad.”

Mr. Carr echoed concerns raised by the Republican, emphasizing the bipartisan work the FCC had achieved in the past. He criticized the FCC’s recent shift towards a more left-leaning approach, accusing the Biden administration of prioritizing ideology over smart policy. Mr. Carr pointed to a clear pattern emerging in the administration’s agenda, centered around the pursuit of control.

According to Mr. Carr, there has been a serious shift in his agency, “the FTC delivered a series of common sense wins on matters ranging from competition and universal service to consumer protection,” Mr. Carr said of the time prior to the recent administration mandates.

“But in five months since ... the Biden administration has pressed the FCC to break hard left, and it has. The administration has put ideology over smart policy.”

He raised alarms about the administration’s push for a sweeping digital equity plan, giving the federal government extensive authority to micromanage various aspects of internet service provision.

According to Mr. Carr, these decisions all align with the overarching goal of increasing government control, potentially infringing on industries within the SEC’s jurisdiction for the first time. He criticized the administration for not prioritizing important bipartisan priorities, such as the administration spectrum strategy.

The commissioner went on to assert that the administration’s agenda could “be boiled down to one word—control. You can see it; the illustrations call for Title II internet regulation.”

Previous Concern for the FCC

This hearing comes on the heels of a Nov. 18 event, where Mr. Carr and other experts warned that the United States could be lagging behind China and other nations in the global 5G race.
Carr spoke at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), titled “Spectrum Slump: Exploring the FCC’s Challenges in 5G Leadership,” which highlighted the critical role that efficient spectrum management plays in ensuring that the United States remains a leader in wireless innovation.

The FCC commissioner and fellow panelists Shane Tews, a senior fellow at AEI, and Ajit Pai, a partner at Searchlight Capital, conveyed a sense of urgency that the issue of the United States falling behind other nations needs to be dealt with urgently by the Biden administration.

Also of concern was what strategy the United States would bring to the World Radiocommunication Conference, held by the International Telecommunications Union, a branch of the United Nations, where nations of the world discuss their upcoming telecommunication goals.