U.S. House panel scraps Sept. 7 net neutrality hearing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. House committee said on Wednesday it has canceled a planned hearing on Sept. 7 on the future of internet access rules after no companies publicly committed to appearing.

FILE PHOTO: The Google logo is pictured atop an office building in Irvine, California, U.S., August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Among those who had been invited in late July to share thoughts before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee were the chief executives of Alphabet Inc, Facebook Inc, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc.

The hearing had the potential to be one of the most high-profile appearances of major tech CEOs on Capitol Hill.

Zach Hunter, a spokesman for the committee’s chairman, U.S. Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, said the hearing was postponed because of talks over the future rules. “As negotiations progress on a permanent solution for net neutrality that ensures a free and open internet, the committee will postpone the original hearing in order to allow talks between stakeholders to continue,” he said.

Republican lawmakers had hoped to bring top executives from tech companies and internet providers to testify publicly in a bid to garner support for a deal to set permanent rules on the future of internet access after a more than decade-long fight. No company had publicly committed to testify and many firms were privately reluctant to testify.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission under President Donald Trump has been moving to scrap rules implemented under the Obama administration that regulated broadband internet like a utility.

The rules bar providers from blocking or slowing websites, or allowing websites to pay for “fast lanes” over competitors.

Internet providers and major tech companies have been sharply divided over the issue. Many providers want Congress to step in and write permanent rules, while internet firms say the regulations are critical to preserving the open internet.

Major internet firms and service providers have been meeting with committee aides in recent weeks, but Democrats have not agreed to work toward a compromise bill, arguing the Obama rules should be left in place.

Republicans on the House panel plan to consider a bill to reauthorize the FCC next month that could address internet access rules.

Other corporate chiefs invited to testify included the heads of Comcast Corp Netflix Inc and Charter Communications Inc.

In May, the FCC voted 2-1 to advance Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to withdraw the 2015 order reclassifying internet service providers as if they were utilities.

The FCC is considering whether it has the authority to limit internet providers’ ability to block, throttle or offer “paid prioritization,” and whether it should keep any protections in place.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Matthew Lewis