Telecommunications company officials would not comment publicly about suggestions they had alienated Republicans in negotiating a compromise on the issue. But several said privately that they were surprised at the response, considering staffers for Barton and Stearns were in the room when the agreement was being crafted.
Getting Their Hands Dirty?
One person familiar with the negotiations said Republicans may be playing politics by distancing themselves from those talks so as not to alienate their base voters so close to the elections.
“They don’t want to make it seem like they got their hands dirty regulating the Internet,” the source said.
Waxman’s proposal would have prevented phone and cable companies from discriminating against legal Internet traffic. It also would have prevented the FCC from reclassifying broadband as a phone service for two years. The FCC says such a reclassification is needed following a federal appeals court decision earlier this year that held the commission did not have authority to stop Comcast Corp. from violating broadband rules.
As a result, some net neutrality advocates said there is an outside chance that a lame-duck Congress, still controlled by Democrats, could tackle the issue.
“I wouldn’t bet on it. But you work it,” said Rey Ramsey, the president of TechNet, which represents high-tech companies and content providers such as Google, Facebook and Intel.
The threat of litigation may prompt lawmakers of both parties to take action, Ramsey said.
Waxman left open that possibility last month, saying, “cooler heads may prevail after the election.” But Waxman urged the FCC to move forward if Congress doesn’t act.
It is not clear what the FCC will do when it holds its next meeting at the end of November. If FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski indicates he is prepared to move on the issue, even Republicans might be more willing to consider the compromise legislation, some net neutrality advocates said.
Not all conservatives are opposed to compromise.
In his tech blog entry earlier this month on the conservative website redstate.com, Neil Stevens urged the approval of the Waxman blueprint.
“We need to talk up the Waxman bill because it is more limited than any other major proposal we’ve dealt with during this debate,” he wrote Oct. 4.
But “open” Internet advocates remain pessimistic that Democrats will be motivated to act, particularly if they suffer large losses in the election. These advocates say that even though the telecommunications companies signed on to the Waxman legislation, they ultimately won when the matter was punted to a Congress that may be run by Republicans.
The advocates add that with massive lobbying teams and extensive grass-roots networks, the companies will have little trouble mending fences with Republicans and pushing their agenda in the next Congress.
AT&T and Verizon have contributed $5.6 million to federal candidates and committees of both parties this election cycle. They also have a bipartisan stable of outside lobbying shops. This year, both companies hired a new GOP lobbying firm, Crossroads Strategies, whose partners had previously worked for Ogilvy Government Relations and the Federalist Group before that. One of the partners, John Green, was Congressional liaison for the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.