The Federal Trade Commission testified today before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law on the role of antitrust enforcement in the debate over network neutrality.
In written testimony on behalf of the Commission, Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen and FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny described the ongoing debate over network neutrality, which relates to the treatment of Internet traffic that travels over the networks of broadband Internet access providers.
In connection with its adoption of net neutrality rules, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a decision in 2015 reclassifying broadband Internet access service from a Title I information service to a Title II common carrier service.
The testimony notes that the FTC has jurisdiction to protect consumers and maintain competition in most sectors of the economy but does not have authority over common carrier activities. In light of this, the FCC’s 2015 reclassification decision resulted in the FTC losing jurisdiction over the provision of Internet access service.
Earlier this year, the testimony states, the FCC proposed to reverse its 2015 net neutrality decision. During this past summer, the FTC’s Bureaus of Consumer Protection, Competition, and Economics jointly filed a comment supporting the return of broadband to a Title I information service. Acting Chairman Ohlhausen filed a separate comment also supporting the return of broadband to Title I. Commissioner McSweeny filed a comment opposing the proposal. The matter remains pending before the FCC.
The testimony also notes that while the debate has centered on the FCC, the FTC has expertise in the antitrust and consumer protection issues raised by net neutrality concerns. In 2007, the FTC authorized staff to issue a report examining broadband Internet connectivity in general and network neutrality in particular. The 2007 FTC report also discussed discrimination, blocking, vertical integration, and data prioritization practices; examined the then-current and likely future state of broadband competition; analyzed Internet service provider practices under antitrust and consumer protection laws; reviewed proposed net neutrality solutions; and suggested guiding principles.
The FTC has also commented in two FCC proceedings related to net neutrality, one in 2016 related to certain privacy rules, as well as the aforementioned comment regarding the FCC proposal to return broadband to a Title I, non-common carrier classification.
The Commission vote approving the testimony and its inclusion in the formal record was 2-0.
Acting Chairman Ohlhausen and Commissioner McSweeny provided separate oral statements to the Subcommittee.
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