WASHINGTON -- When it comes to the Internet's future, Rep. Marsha Blackburn continues to side with "service providers" like Comcast and Verizon against "content providers" like Google and Netflix.
Internet service providers are also some of her largest campaign contributors.
In questioning Tom Wheeler, FCC chairman, at a House hearing this week, Blackburn, R-Brentwood, portrayed Google and Netflix as wanting regulatory benefits without paying for them. She particularly cited their lobbying for "net neutrality," the idea that Internet service providers provide equal access to different content and applications instead of discriminating through pricing or slower loading speeds.
The Tennessee representative fiercely opposes the FCC imposing a net-neutrality regime but noted Google and Netflix have been lobbying for one.
"But they (Google and Netflix) free ride, because they are not paying the fees and bearing that part of the regulatory burden," Blackburn said.
"So, since they seem so ready and willing to have regulation help them with their business models, how would you recommend that those entities share in the cost, pay their part of the cost, of funding the agency?"
Wheeler replied such decisions are "above my pay grade" and that Congress itself sets which firms have to pay fees and which don't.
As for net neutrality, the FCC continues to wrestle with the issue, trying to craft rules that can survive a federal court challenge. So far, it has alarmed both sides in the debate.
Blackburn and Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast are dead set against any rules that would result in service providers being regulated like "common-carrier" utilities.
Since winning her seat in 2002, Blackburn, vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has received $61,750 from the political action committees and employees of AT&T, $59,650 from Verizon and $51,000 from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the lobbying group for Internet service providers. For her 2014 race, she has also received $7,500 from Comcast, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Blackburn's office declined to respond to phone and emailed questions about whether the contributions influenced her position.
Meanwhile, cable lobbyists have been urging lawmakers to sign a letter to Wheeler that says, "In the years that broadband service has been subjected to relatively little regulation, investment and deployment have flourished and broadband competition has increased, all to the benefit of consumers and the American economy."
Meanwhile, Google and Netflix have joined dozens of other content companies -- including Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft and LinkedIn -- in sending their own letter to the FCC, saying they are alarmed by reports the agency might allow phone and cable Internet providers to discriminate "technically and financially" against content companies.
"If these reports are correct, this represents a grave threat to the Internet," they said.