US communications companies welcome power shift

Capitol Building, East Capitol Street, NE and 1st Street, NE, Washington, DC, 20002, United States

The Republican election victory is good news for AT&T and other telecommunications and cable providers but could spell trouble for Google, the Internet search giant. Most analysts agree that whatever slim hope Internet companies had that Congress might pass so-called "net neutrality" legislation, which would have barred Internet service providers from giving certain content preferential treatment over their networks, has been reduced with the demise of the Democratic majority.

Dozens of Democratic lawmakers who supported such legislation lost their election bids. Republicans on the House Commerce Committee will now have oversight of the Federal Communications Commission and will put pressure on the media regulator to abandon plans to set new rules for broadband companies. Instead, some Republican lawmakers have signalled a readiness to take on the hot button issue of privacy, which could mark a challenge to Google and other Internet groups that collect user information. Rep Joe Barton (R-TX), who is vying to become chairman Commerce Committee, said in a letter to Facebook that he was ready to put privacy policies "in the crosshairs" in the next Congress. "I want the Internet economy to prosper, but it can't unless the people's right to privacy means more than a right to hear excuses after the damage is done," he said.

One Republican industry lobbyist said he expected the new House majority to investigate the Federal Trade Commission's decision to drop an investigation into a privacy breach at Google. Such a probe would be a "twofer", giving the Republicans a chance "poke in to" Google and Jon Leibowitz, the FTC chairman, who was appointed by the Obama administration. Google said it has been building relationships with Republicans "for years". Some of its senior policy officials include a former staffer for Sen John McCain (R-AZ) and a former staffer for Denny Hastert (R-IL), the previous speaker.



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