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GOP keeps the heat on FCC’s Wheeler and net neutrality

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Chairman at Net Neutrality hear Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.)

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler will be back in the witness chair this week, facing two more committees that intend to keep up the heat following the commission’s 3-2 party-line vote to treat Internet service as a utility.

Having appeared last week before three committees–two House and one Senate, Wheeler should have his talking points well polished as he continues to defend both his thinking and the process that led to the order.

While the hearings by a House appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday and the House judiciary committee on Wednesday will likely cover many of the same issues raised last week, Wheeler might also face new lines of questioning.

The House judiciary committee under chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) titled its hearing, “Wrecking the Internet to save it? The FCC’s net neutrality rule.” The committee will challenge the idea that new rules are needed to regulate the Internet when current antitrust law should have enough latitude to keep abuses in check.

“The key to an open and free Internet lies in strong enforcement of our nation’s antitrust laws. These time-trusted laws allow for maximum flexibility and consistently have demonstrated their ability to prevent discriminatory and anti-competitive conduct in the marketplace,” Goodlatte said in a statement.

Goodlatte and 20 other GOP members of the committee wrote to Wheeler the day the net neutrality order was passed threatening to block the order through a Congressional Review Act resolution.

In both hearings next week, Wheeler will be joined at the witness table by GOP FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, Wheeler’s net neutrality sparring partner.

At the judiciary hearing, the Wheeler-Pai duo will also be joined by FTC GOP commissioner Joshua Wright. Although the FTC has declined to take an official position on the net neutrality order, Wright testified last year before the committee that antitrust law offers a “superior approach” to protect an open Internet for consumers.

Going after the budget is another way of pressuring the FCC. For the first time in 25 years, GOP lawmakers are seeking to reauthorize the FCC. While the commission has sought an increase in its budget, House leaders are looking to freeze the budget at lower levels for four years.