Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law oversight hearing on Net Neutrality and the Role of Antitrust.
Chairman Goodlatte: Today marks the seventh hearing over the past decade the Judiciary Committee has held on the topic of net neutrality. The significant amount of time and effort devoted to this topic evidences the need for a more permanent solution. Fortunately, the FCC, under the leadership of newly confirmed Chairman Ajit Pai, is taking actions to help steer us in that direction.
On May 18, 2017, two years after the Obama administration’s FCC imposed the Open Internet Order, the current FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to reexamine the regulatory framework established by the 2015 Order. The NPRM proposes, among other things, to reverse the decision of the Obama administration’s FCC to reclassify broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service under the Communications Act of 1934. The NPRM also requests comment on whether to keep, modify or eliminate certain “bright-line rules” adopted in the 2015 Order and whether regulatory intervention in the Internet service provider market is necessary. Finally, the NPRM proposes to eliminate the “general Internet conduct standard,” which gives the FCC significant discretion to prohibit any ISP practice that it believes runs afoul of a non-exhaustive list of factors.
The Internet that existed before the 2015 Order was dynamic, competitive, open, and free. By raising costs, imposing heavy regulatory burdens, introducing significant regulatory uncertainty, and instituting government meddling into nearly every aspect of the Internet, the Obama administration’s FCC seriously undermined the Internet’s competitive nature.
The Obama administration’s FCC argued, under the guise of “net neutrality,” that imposing blanket regulation on the Internet marketplace is needed to encourage competition and promote a “virtuous cycle” of broadband use, innovation and investment. I am deeply skeptical of these claims.
In my experience, regulation generally stifles, rather than facilitates, competition and innovation. In fact, it is my belief that the Internet flourished precisely because it developed in a less regulated market.
That is not to say that we should stand by and allow companies to engage in discriminatory or anticompetitive activities. Rather, I believe that the principles of “net neutrality” can be best achieved through the vigorous application of our nation’s antitrust laws and, at most, a much lighter-handed regulatory approach than that contained in the 2015 Order.
Strong enforcement of our antitrust laws can prevent dominant Internet service providers from discriminating against competitors’ content or engaging in anticompetitive pricing practices.
Supporters of net neutrality have voiced particular concerns over vertical agreements or mergers between Internet service providers and related businesses. Many experts acknowledge that these vertical agreements could possibly lead to anti-competitive conduct that could potentially harm consumers. In extreme cases, these agreements could eventually block downstream products, degrade services and lead to higher prices for American families. I strongly agree that these anti-competitive practices should be aggressively deterred and punished.
Yet, it is in these specific areas that the FTC has the relevant expertise and the most robust toolbox to address anticompetitive activities. Blanket regulation, by contrast, would deny consumers the potential benefits in cost savings and improved services that may result from vertical agreements.
Furthermore, antitrust laws can be applied uniformly to all Internet market participants, not just to Internet service providers, to ensure that improper behavior is policed uniformly across all corners of the Internet marketplace.
The House Judiciary Committee conducted previous hearings last Congress, examining whether antitrust law or regulation is more effective at protecting consumers and innovation on the Internet, and witnesses testified strongly in support of applying antitrust law.
Given the NPRM being considered by the FCC, it is essential that we continue this conversation as we search for a more permanent solution to this issue that provides for the flexibility to drive innovation and consumer welfare.
Ultimately, I am open to the idea of amending the antitrust laws, if necessary, to account for the characteristics of the Internet. I will continue to use the House Judiciary Committee’s jurisdiction over our nation’s antitrust laws and enforcement agencies in order to protect an open Internet and ensure that the Internet continues to flourish in a competitive, deregulatory environment.
Today’s hearing will demonstrate the significant support for reversing the 2015 Order and returning to a less-intrusive regulatory state in which the antitrust laws and the FTC play a significant role in addressing harmful conduct.
I look forward to hearing today’s testimony on the role of antitrust laws in creating a permanent solution to the net neutrality debate that has been raging for over a decade, and I yield back the balance of my time.
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