House Energy and Commerce ranking member Joe Barton, R-Texas, said Friday one of his top priorities if he is successful in his bid to reclaim the chair of the panel would be to block the Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service.
During an appearance on C-Span's "The Communicators" program, Barton said the committee might need to move legislation to block the commission from going forward with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's plan to reclassify broadband under Title II of the communications act.
Genachowski proposed such a change after the FCC's authority over the broadband providers was put into doubt by an April federal appeals court decision. Barton and other critics of the move worry that the FCC will seek to implement network neutrality rules that would bar broadband providers from discriminating against Internet content. These rules, critics say, would hamper broadband investment and innovation.
"It's imperative that we maintain the freedom of the Internet," Barton said. "I do not agree with the FCC's attempt to regulate the Internet through Title II. We can certainly move legislation making that crystal clear that they do not have that authority. So we will be doing aggressive oversight of the FCC."
But in order to do that, Barton must first gain the chairmanship. GOP rules limit members from serving more than six years as chairman or ranking member of a committee. Barton, who has served in both roles for six years, said he will be seeking a clarification of Republican rules.
He noted that when the GOP won control of the House in 1994, many of the Republicans who had served as ranking member were allowed to serve three terms (six years) as chairman even though they had previously served as ranking members on those committees.
Using that precedence as his guide, Barton said he believes he still has two more terms to serve as chairman of Energy and Commerce since he only served one term from 2005-2007 as chairman of the committee before Democrats won control of the House in 2006. He said he would try to get the rule clarified by the House Republican transition team.
Barton is expected to face competition for the chairmanship from a handful of Republican members including Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich. When asked how his tenure as chairman would differ from Upton's, Barton described himself as a "consistent conservative across the board" while Upton was more "moderate." Barton added that given his past experience as chairman from 2005-2006, he could "hit the ground running."
Meanwhile, when asked about his other tech and telecom priorities, Barton said he if he could "get bipartisan agreement, I'm very open to reforming the universal service fund. It's long overdue." He said legislation introduced earlier this year by Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., who was defeated for re-election on Tuesday, and Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., could serve as a "good base" to begin crafting legislation.
Barton also reiterated his desire to pursue privacy legislation, saying he was "a little bit surprised ... that we have not moved a privacy bill in this Congress." He said it is an issue he can work with Democrats on, citing such members as Reps. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Bobby Rush of Illinois, who as chairman of the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee introduced a privacy bill earlier this year.
"Privacy is one of those issues gaining in importance. It's something that could be addressed if we could get the right coalition," Barton said. "As chairman, I would be very, very willing to legislate in that area."
Barton was asked about whether he would hold a hearing on Google's acknowledgment that it had "mistakenly" collected information from unsecured Wi-Fi networks as Google cars collected photos for the firm's Street View service. He said the incident was "very troubling" and questioned whether it was a mistake as Google has said. Barton added that it is an issue the committee would examine as part of its effort to craft privacy legislation.
Barton also was asked about the controversy over the D-block of spectrum that public safety officials want reallocated to them for an interoperable broadband communications network. The FCC, however, wants to auction the spectrum to commercial bidders and use the proceeds to help pay for a public safety network. Barton said he favors auctioning the D-block "no strings attached."
Click here to get a glimpse of National Journal's new website.