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House scraps net neutrality hearing

By DAVID SHEPARDSON
Reuters

August 30. 2017 11:43PM

Chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, gives a speech during a conference at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) held in Barcelona, northeastern Spain, on Feb. 28. (Andreu Dalmau/EFE/Zuma Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON — A U.S. House committee said on Wednesday it has cancelled a planned hearing on Sept. 7 on the future of internet access rules after no companies publicly committed to appearing.

Among those who had been invited in late July to share thoughts before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee were the chief executives of Alphabet Inc., Facebook Inc., AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc.

The hearing had the potential to be one of the most high-profile appearances of major tech CEOs on Capitol Hill.

Zach Hunter, a spokesman for the committee’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, said the hearing was postponed because of talks over the future rules. “As negotiations progress on a permanent solution for net neutrality that ensures a free and open internet, the committee will postpone the original hearing in order to allow talks between stakeholders to continue,” he said.

Republican lawmakers had hoped to bring top executives from tech companies and internet providers to testify publicly in a bid to garner support for a deal to set permanent rules on the future of internet access after a more than decade-long fight. No company had publicly committed to testify and many firms were privately reluctant to testify.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission under President Donald Trump has been moving to scrap rules implemented under the Obama administration that regulated broadband internet like a utility.

The rules bar providers from blocking or slowing websites, or allowing websites to pay for “fast lanes” over competitors.

Internet providers and major tech companies have been sharply divided over the issue. Many providers want Congress to step in and write permanent rules, while internet firms say the regulations are critical to preserving the open internet.

Major internet firms and service providers have been meeting with committee aides in recent weeks.

Republicans on the House panel plan to consider a bill to reauthorize the FCC next month that could address internet access rules.

In May, the FCC voted 2-1 to advance Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to withdraw the 2015 order reclassifying internet service providers as if they were utilities.

The FCC is considering whether it has the authority to limit internet providers’ ability to block, throttle or offer “paid prioritization,” and whether it should keep any protections in place.


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