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GOP panel members balk at new Net rules

Measure regulates Web control

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Republican lawmakers, calling the FCC's new Internet regulations an "overreach" and a "solution in search of a problem" voted Wednesday to move forward with an attempt to overturn the new neutrality rules backed by the White House.

The 15-8 subcommittee vote sends the issue — at its heart a debate over whether the government controls the Internet — to the floor of the House, where it is likely to be approved, though its chances of making it through the Senate or surviving an almost-certain President Obama veto are small.

Still, Republicans used Wednesday's House communications and technology subcommittee hearing to send the message that the Federal Communication Commission had overstepped its authority, despite testimony from some industry leaders that the new rules would not dramatically affect their business.

James Cicconi, a senior vice president with AT&T and a former White House staffer under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, testified that the rules were a "fair middle ground."

Under questioning from Republicans, however, he acknowledged that AT&T officials, who collaborated last year with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in drafting the rules, were concerned that the regulations could have been much more draconian.

The regulations are designed to prevent broadband providers — companies such as AT&T and Verizon, which control the infrastructure of the Internet — from interfering with how companies such as Google, Netflix or a small startup use the lines.

"Some carriers decided that bad was better than worse," Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, said. "That's a far cry from what supporters have been saying."

Lawmakers were split along party lines, with Republicans voting to overturn, the Democrats voting in favor of the FCC rules.

Democrats, who argue the Internet needs oversight so that entrepreneurial, startup ventures such as Facebook and eBay can be protected from the telecommunications giants, were sharply critical of the Republican actions.

The ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Anna G. Eshoo of California, said the Republicans seemed to be suffering from a "virus."

"It's infected the majority. God forbid any federal agency should move forward and enforce the laws," she said.

Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, said he agreed with the Republicans in principle, but could not support the bill.

"I strongly oppose what the FCC is doing, but the proper place for this matter is in the courts," he said. "You're going to pass a piece of legislation here that is not going to go anywhere or do anything."

Robin Chase, the founder and former CEO of Zipcar, urged the subcommittee members to support the FCC. Ms. Chase testified that startups such as Zipcar, which depend on unfettered, open access to the Internet, face too many hurdles when dealing with the telecommunications giants — and the hurdles are getting higher, she said.

She acknowledged that the new rules were imperfect.

"If Congress wants to truly unlock the economic and job-creating potential of the Internet by fully tapping into the innovation potential of our country, it should do so by fixing the FCC's rules in this regard, rather than repealing them," she said.

Republicans, who see the FCC action as a federal power grab, have argued that the unregulated Internet has flourished without government oversight and further contend the FCC and Mr. Genachowski are usurping congressional authority with the new "rules ofl the road."

The hearing was the latest confrontation between Democrats and the new Republican House majority that is aggressively challenging policies and regulations approved during the first two years of the Obama administration.

The regulations were approved Dec. 21 over the objections on the two Republican members of the five-member FCC board, and are expected to go into effect this summer.

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