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House GOP Moves Closer to Quashing Net Neutrality Rule

Some lawmakers say is the FCC’s first step toward completely regulating the Internet.

In a party-line vote March 9, 2011, House Republicans moved closer to quashing the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) regulation governing the Internet, which some lawmakers say is the FCC’s first step toward completely regulating the Internet.

Following a day-long hearing on the FCC’s “Open Internet” regulations, the House subcommittee on communications and technology approved—in a 15-8 split vote—House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res. 37), a “Resolution of Disapproval that reverses the FCC’s net neutrality rules.”

The FCC’s regulations were approved by in a split vote of the commissioners on Dec. 21, 2010. At the time of the vote, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the regulation will prohibit Internet providers from blocking access to legal websites, and will seek to strike a balance between the interests of Internet service providers, content companies and consumers. Voting with Genachowski for the regulation was the FCC’s other Democratic appointees, Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn. Voting against the regulation were Republican appointees, Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker.

Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., introduced H.J. Res. 37 on Feb. 16, 2011. It says:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives…that Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to the matter of preserving the open Internet and broadband industry practices, and such rule shall have no force or effect.”

At the start of the hearing, Walden said, “I have introduced the resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which provides Congress with an expedited process to nullify agency rules.” Walden said halting the FCC’s regulation is necessary because “we have an open and thriving Internet thanks to our historical hands-off approach. The Internet works pretty well; it’s the government that doesn’t.” In addition, he said the FCC adopted the rules regulation the Internet “without statutory authority to do so.”

Walden later said, the FCC “has exceeded it’s authority,” and it is holding additional regulation “over the heads” of industry affected by the open Internet regulations. That is why few Internet companies have come out against the regulation, he said.

However, Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said, “most of the Internet companies wanted stronger rules than those adopted by the FCC,” because “the phone and cable companies have near monopolies as providers of Internet access, especially wireline Internet access. Without sensible regulation, they could choke off innovation by charging Internet companies for the right to communicate with consumers.”

In addition, Subcommittee Ranking Member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said, the claims that there is “no reason” for the FCC to have developed those rules and it is operating in theory and “not correct.” While the regulations were designed to prevent future problems, they are based on incidents that occurred, she said listing several incidents that the FCC regulations would have had authority over. The incidents she listed are:

  • In 2006, Cinular blocked PayPal in favor of another online payment service.
  • In 2007, Comcast initially denied, then admitted after an FCC complaint, that it blocked BitTorrent traffic. Comcast has since changed its practices, and the FCC directed Comcast to disclose its network management practices.
  • In 2008, a Max Plank Institute for Software Systems’ study found significant blocking of BitTorrent traffic by Comcast and Cox.
  • In 2009, RCN Corp. entered into a class action settlement in which it acknowledged it blocked, degraded or slowed due to paid ads. However, RCN denied the allegations listed in the settlement.
  • In 2009, ATT blocked use of iPhone applications that used 2G or 3G.
  • In 2010, ATT blocked use of “Sling Box” devices for iPhone on its 3G network.

With the subcommittee’s approval, H.J. Res. 37 moves to the full Energy and Commerce Committee. However, Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., has yet to decide when the committee will take up that proposed resolution.

— J.J. Smith