Maine Congressional Delegates Wary of FCC Internet Proposal
A proposal before the Federal Communications Commission that would allow Internet providers to set different prices for access has members of Maine's congressional delegation concerned. But that concern may not translate into support for legislation to override a decision by the FCC.
So many Americans are concerned about possible changes to the Internet that more than a million comments have been filed with the FCC, crashing the agency’s Web site in July, and leading to a deadline extension now set for Sept. 15.
Independent Sen. Angus King says he's worried that the FCC will not base its final rules on the idea that the Internet is the 21st century version of a public utility. "I think they are what are called 'common carriers,' which is they take whatever comes, they charge the same rates to everybody," King says. "Again, we have dealt with this before; we have been dealing with these kinds of issues for a hundred years, with electrical systems, phone systems, pipelines and those kinds of things."
King objects to wording on the proposed rules to allow what are described as "commercially reasonable" agreements, where content companies could pay Internet providers to boost the delivery speed of their traffic.
Congressman Mike Michaud, a Democrat, says neither the FCC nor Congress should provide a boost for one set of competitors over another. "My concern is that if we get the federal government involved, or the FCC, to give one company an advantage over another."
Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree agrees that, fundamentally, the Internet should operate as a public utility with the same rates for all content providers. She says any decision that undermines net neutrality could have a sweeping impact on everyone.
"That could affect the rates, that could affect the speed at which things come through the Internet. That could affect people’s safety, economic development," Pingree says. "You know, that’s a lot of our daily lives."
Pingree says she has long supported net neutrality and is worried the proposed FCC rules could undermine that principle. Republican Sen. Susan Collins, says she thinks current rules are adequate, and she also has misgivings about allowing some content providers to have an advantage over others.
"On the other hand, if the marketplace comes up with alternative ways of delivering services, I don’t want to shut the door on that either," Collins says. "This is a case where the details really matter."
And those details will be in the rules the FCC proposes after comments close Sept. 15. Collins says there is reluctance in Congress to overrule a regulatory agency that has gone through such an extensive process to develop rules. But Sen. King says Congress should play a role if the FCC abandons the fundamental principle of net neutrality that he supports. "I distinguish between federal law and federal regulations and I think there are places where Congress has a role to play," King says.
But it could be difficult for Congress to take any action this fall. Congress will only be in session a few weeks in September before taking off all of October for campaigning. It may well be one of the growing numbers of issues that will have to be resolved in a post-election session.