- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - U.S. Sen. John Thune’s first hearing as a committee chairman in the new Republican-controlled chamber will tackle the open Internet, or so-called “net neutrality.”

Wednesday’s scheduled meeting of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will feature testimony from South Dakota resident Tom Simmons, who is the senior vice president of public policy for Midcontinent Communications.

At stake are efforts to keep Internet providers from being able to speed up or slow down online traffic. President Barack Obama’s administration has pushed the Federal Communications Commission to regulate providers more heavily like telephone companies.

The agency is scheduled to vote on new Internet regulations in February.

Republicans want to restrict such a “very heavy-handed approach,” Thune said, calling such a move “antiquated” and said it would be “a basic government takeover … approach to the Internet.”

It’s critical to rely on congressional authority to make changes to the law, Thune said, rather than using agency regulations that could spawn court challenges and apply an outdated regulatory scheme based on old technology. The GOP plan also aims to stop traffic throttling by service providers.

In a statement last week, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Markey called the Republican proposal “a legislative wolf in sheep’s clothing,” because it doesn’t actually safeguard consumers or allow the FCC to impose strong rules.

Updating laws regarding the Internet is important because, “it’s one of the few areas in our economy where we actually have a surplus,” Thune said.

The committee aims to address a variety of issues important to South Dakota this year, such as rail and road infrastructure and the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization.

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