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AT&T, Verizon Irk GOP on Net Neutrality

The prospect of big Republican gains next month has complicated any potential compromise on the net neutrality issue, especially for a trio of major players in the telecommunications sector who bet on a deal with Democrats.

House Republicans have indicated they are unlikely to push ahead with an arrangement spearheaded by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) just before lawmakers left to campaign for the midterm elections. The deal sputtered after Republicans refused to sign on to it.

Now AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association may have some making up to do with GOPers, who are irritated that their past allies in the fight against net neutrality regulations worked with Waxman to craft the deal.

A GOP Energy and Commerce Committee staffer said Republican lawmakers were frustrated because they had defended the telecommunications giants against efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet.

“Our Members stepped out on a proverbial limb,” the staffer said. “Some may feel they got the limb sawed off behind them.”

The Republican Members poised to take over House panels that oversee the Internet are opposed to government intervention in enacting net neutrality rules, which would bar high-speed Internet providers from giving preferential treatment to some content providers.

The staffer said that Republicans view the net neutrality issue as a “solution in search of a problem.” But Republicans may be prompted to take action, the staffer said, if the FCC moves to impose net neutrality rules. Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee, has listed preventing the FCC from imposing net neutrality rules as one of his top priorities if he becomes chairman of the panel, the staffer said.

Barton is campaigning for a waiver from GOP leadership to become Energy and Commerce chairman to circumvent term limits set by the party conference.

Other likely candidates for the job, including Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), are also opposed to the FCC imposing net neutrality rules. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who is the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, has introduced legislation barring the FCC from enforcing net neutrality rules.

Some in the telecommunications industry are holding out hope that Republicans will remain open to compromise legislation, particularly if it means pre-empting FCC action.

Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, issued a statement after reaching the agreement with Waxman, saying that “we are pleased that Barton and Stearns remain open to congressional action on this issue, and pledge to work closely with them toward that end.”

“We remain convinced that the proper course is for Congress to decide the scope of authority it wishes the FCC to have in this area,” he added.

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