Rep. Fred Upton will head the Energy and Commerce Committee when the U.S. House reconvenes with a newly elected Republican majority in January 2011. Upton will replace Rep. Henry Waxman (D-NY).
Among other policy issues, the Energy and Commerce Committee oversees national Internet and telecom policy and retains jurisdiction over the Federal Communications Commission. In recent months the FCC has been embroiled in retransmission disputes between cable providers and broadcasters, peering disagreements between Internet Service Providers and Web sites, proposed Internet network neutrality regulations, broadcast censorship, and bandwidth reapportionment, in addition to its core licensing and bandwidth monitoring functions.
Upton (R-MI) fended off challenges for the position by Reps. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL). All three candidates have expressed opposition to recent attempts by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to impose network neutrality regulations on the Internet, including Genachowski’s controversial “Third Way” proposal last spring to reclassify the Internet as a Title II entity under the 1934 Telecommunications Act. Had Genachowski succeeded, the Internet would be regulated under the same policies used for landline telephones.
Upon hearing the Republican Steering Committee had picked him to chair the committee, Upton said in a press statement, “The Obama administration is on notice —they will not be allowed to regulate what they have been unable to legislate.”
These comments refer specifically to the FCC’s attempts to expand its authority over the Internet.
While abandoning the Title II reclassification strategy, the FCC indeed passed net neutrality regulations by a 3-2 vote at its monthly meeting December 21.
Upton responded with strong language against Genachowski’s placement of a net neutrality vote on the FCC’s December agenda: “We have all grown sick and tired of the Chicago-style politics to ram through job-killing measures at any cost, regardless of the consequences or damage to our economy. Rather than put a gun to the heads of our largest economic engines, now is the time for the FCC to cease and desist. The FCC does not have authority to regulate the Internet, and pursuing net neutrality through Title I or reclassification is wholly unacceptable. Our new majority will use rigorous oversight, hearings, and legislation to fight the FCC’s overt power grab,” he said.
Upton has served on the Energy and Commerce Committee since 1991. In 2005 he cosponsored the Brownback/Upton Broadcast Indecency Enforcement Act, which raised potential FCC fines for decency violations from $32,500 per incident to $325,000.
In 2007 he attained some notoriety among free-market Republicans and libertarians by voting for the controversial ban on incandescent light bulbs by 2012. “Upton, a team player by reputation, pushed the law on behalf of his president at the time, George Bush—who himself was trying to buy his way into Green heaven after a lifetime as an oil man,” wrote Michigan View editor and Detroit News political cartoonist Henry Payne at the time.
Despite what he considers Upton’s past policy missteps, Ken Braun, a policy analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy—a research and education think tank located in Upton’s home state of Michigan—says the congressman will be judged more on his performance as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “After 15 months of near double-digit unemployment, it is astonishing that the current administration continues to believe government regulation is the answer to everything,” Braun said.
“The 2010 election demonstrated that the American people are looking way beyond the here and now,” said Braun. “Today they hold politicians accountable for the long-range damage that they can do on matters such as federal debt and runaway regulations like net neutrality. Upton and the new class in Congress can answer this policy question right or wrong, but their answer will contribute a big part of their grade in November 2012.”
Braun continued: “More government red tape will only further thwart our economic recovery and derail future job growth. The Internet has flourished without needless government intervention. We should step aside and allow the staggering innovations of tomorrow to proceed.”
Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is managing editor of Infotech & Telecom News.