Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday offered a strong defense of his agency's new Internet traffic regulations, telling skeptical Republican lawmakers that existing laws were not strong enough to police the large firms that operate the Web's infrastructure..
"In my view, while critically important, antitrust laws alone would not adequately preserve the freedom and openness of the Internet," the FCC chief told a House Judiciary subcommittee on the hot-button issue of "net neutrality."
The issue has led to sharp disputes between major users of the Web and telecommunications giants — such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — that build and maintain the basic wiring underlying the global information network.
Led by Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, GOP lawmakers at the hearing questioned whether the new rules pushed through by Mr. Genachowski usurp congressional authority and federal antitrust laws.
Mr. Goodlatte, who chairs the House Judiciary panel that oversees Internet issues, said the FCC had overstepped its bounds.
"I believe a light-touch, antitrust-based approach will best protect a competitive, innovative and open Internet," he said Thursday.
Rep. Darrell E. Issa questioned whether Mr. Genachowski's FCC had the authority to tell Internet providers how to manage their networks.
"You sell [spectrum], and then you want to tell them how to use it," the California Republican said.
On a largely party-line vote last month, the House voted 240-179 to repeal the FCC regulations, but the agency has the support of the Democrat-controlled Senate and of President Obama, who appointed Mr. Genachowski.
Mr. Genachowski said the new regulations, approved in December, are necessary.
Antitrust enforcement, he argued, "is expensive to pursue, takes a long time, and kicks in only after damage is done."
Robert M. McDowell, one of the two Republicans on the commission who voted against the FCC's so-called "Open Rules of the Road" for the Internet, warned that the regulations threated to stifle innovation in the tech sector of the American economy.
The net-neutrality rules will "disproportionately affect smaller companies who will have to bear the adjudication costs," he said. "Nothing is broken that needs fixing."
Net neutrality, which President Obama campaigned on before the 2008 elections, is designed to prevent the telecommunications giants from using their gatekeeper status to impede the business of their competitors, from Web powers such as Google down to small startup Internet businesses.
But Republicans have called the new regulations a federal power grab and a "solution in search of a problem."
Many in the industry have supported the rules, which proponents have cast as a compromise that protects the access of entrepreneurs and content providers, like Netflix, while providing the flexibility telecoms need to manage traffic on their networks.
But the rules are being challenged by Verizon, which has said it will fight net neutrality in court.
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