Hyperbole in their holsters, lawmakers are clashing on several fronts this week over the prospect of new Internet regulation -- something that's either a vital tool for consumers or the latest government takeover, depending on who's talking.
The first fight came Tuesday afternoon in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Republicans advanced a measure that would block the so-called "net neutrality" rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission on a party-line vote late last year.
The rules are intended to prohibit phone and cable companies from abusing their control over broadband connections to discriminate against rival content or services, or play favorites with Web traffic.
But critics say it's a solution in search of a problem, and that the move could open the door for ever-expanding government dominion over the Internet. Republicans supporting the resolution in committee Tuesday circulated a letter describing the FCC action as "unprecedented job-destroying rules."
Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and other Republicans equated the FCC plan with a "government takeover of the Internet" and urged colleagues to "keep the Internet open and free."
That's the same argument Democrats make in support of the net-neutrality rules.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., warned Monday that Republicans' proposal "would destroy the World Wide Web" and prevent the Internet from being truly "open." He predicted the proposal is headed for "legislative oblivion."
But committee spokeswoman Debbee Keller said the FCC resolution, with 56 co-sponsors, "will receive a lot of support," at least on the floor of the House.
It would still have to survive the Democrat-dominated Senate and the president's veto pen, just like any other bill. But should it clear all those hurdles, Keller said, the measure would tie the FCC's hands from implementing not only the net-neutrality rules, but "any rules that are deemed similar."
On top of Tuesday's vote, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is looking to introduce a bill making it a crime to violate net-neutrality rules -- presuming those rules are implemented.
And on the Senate side, lawmakers plan to hold a hearing Wednesday on online consumer privacy.
On its surface, the hearing will be a look at what companies are doing to collect and distribute consumer information. But it also comes against the backdrop of calls for more government rules aimed at protecting consumers from those intrusions.
Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holding the hearing, said he wants to know what "risks" the government can help minimize.
"I want to know if the privacy protections we have in place are enough, or whether Congress needs to step in and do more," he said in a written statement.
Rockefeller noted that recent reports out of the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Commerce have called for more privacy protections for consumers.
But the hearing has attracted some criticism. Adam Thierer, a fellow at George Washington University's Mercatus Center, wrote in a column that government agencies seem set on boosting privacy regulation, and questioned whether they've weighed the cost to businesses and whether new regulations could lead to a de facto "privacy tax" on the marketplace.
"Why do FTC and DoC officials believe that citing unscientific public opinions polls from regulatory advocacy organizations serves as a surrogate for serious cost-benefit analysis or an investigation into how well privacy policies actual work in the marketplace?" he wrote.