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House Judiciary Free Speech hearing a yawner; Christian Coalition couldn't answer simple questions

The House Judiciary hearing on "Free Speech and the Internet" this afternoon was perilously close to being a non-event.

  • While Net neutrality activists will claim and spin victory and momentum in getting a congressional hearing on the subject, anyone who listened to the hearing would have been surprised by how little actual support net neutrality got out of this hearing

What I found most interesting and telling at the hearing is that Michelle Combs of the Christian Coalition, who testified in support of net neutrality, was completely unable to answer simple softball questions by Ranking Member Sensenbrenner. Like a proverbial "doe in headlights" she could not answer the simplest of questions for a witness; she had to ask for help from her fellow panelists, which made it obvious that she was only a symbolic figurehead on the subject and did not understand even the most basic parts of the net neutrality issue. These were the two questions and answers paraphrased:  

  • Rep. Sensenbrenner asked Ms. Combs to elaborate on her reference in her own testimony on why AT&T's action in the PearlJam concert was similar to China's censorship.
    • Ms Combs was clearly surprised, unprepared, and unable to answer the question.
  • Rep Sensenbrenner then asked, given it was the Antitrust Task Force, was it better to have the FCC regulate the Internet or to have market competition backed up with the ability to file an antitrust suit with the threat of treble antitrust damages?
    • Obviously flustered, she blurted out she believed in a "free and open Internet" and looked for rescue from her fellow panelists.
      • Key takeaway: Christian Coalition's leader has no clue why she supports net neutrality beyond the platitudes obviously fed to her or written for her by SaveTheInternet.
      • Next time she is in public on this issue someone should ask her who prepared her remarks. 
      • Net-net, she probably hurt the net neutrality effort more than she helped it today.

Other takeaways from the hearing:

  • There were surprisingly few members who indicated they supported net neutrality, more members attended the hearing that opposed it. 
  • Chairman Conyers, who said he supported net neutrality, placed a caveat on his support in that he said he did not believe that Congress should regulate the Internet. 
  • Ranking Member Chabot gave a strong free market, anti-net neutrality statement.
  • Former Judiciary Chairman Sensenbrenner, who was a strong net neutrality supporter in 2006 in order to protect his committee's jurisdiction, had a decidedly less supportive approach to net neutrality this time around.
    • He even said he hopes the Judiciary Committee could work together to protect the Internet from regulation by the Energy and Commerce Committee (he was obviously referring to Chairman Markey's regulate-the-Internet -- Net neutrality bill.)
  • Even one of the Democratic supporters of net neutrality wanted ISPs to have the authority to preemptively block and filter out child pornography. 
  • Chris Yoo of Vanderbilt, was the star witness with the most expertise; he fielded well over half of the questions asked of the panel and handled all the tough ones. Kudos to Chris. 

Bottomline:  Other than saying that they got a hearing, net neutrality activists have to realize that this hearing did not advance the ball for their cause.

  • What it really exposed, was that if Markey tries to push net neutrality this year or next year -- he has a difficult and protracted jurisdictional fight on his hands with the Judiciary Committee.
  • This is just one more of many reasons why net neutrality faces a steep up hill fight in 2009, even if a potential President Obama were to strongly support it.