Congress, White House ready to throw down over net neutrality

The Obama administration and the Congress are at odds over the Federal Communications Commission’s controversial net neutrality rules for broadband Internet providers, which will go into effect Nov. 20.

Congress wants to nullify the rules by passing a joint resolution and the White House threatened to veto the resolution in a Nov 8 policy statement.

The administration statement called the rules “an enforceable, effective but flexible policy for keeping the Internet free and open,” and said a senior adviser would recommend its veto if it comes to the president’s desk.

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Congressional foes of net neutrality warn that the rules will threaten jobs, innovation, broadband deployment “and the very Internet itself.”

“The Internet is open and thriving today thanks to the government's historical hands-off approach,” the committee report on the House resolution said. “If the Internet is to continue to flourish, especially in the face of demands for ever more sophisticated content, service and applications, we must maintain the historical hands-off approach.”

Network neutrality rules evolved from four Internet freedoms enumerated by then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell in a 2004 speech:

  1. To access legal content, subject to reasonable network management.
  2. To run applications that do not exceed their service plan limits or harm the network.
  3. To attach devices that operate within their service plan limits, do not harm the network, or enable theft of service.
  4. To obtain meaningful information about their service plans.

When FCC tried to enforce these rules against Comcast in 2008 for blocking some peer-to-peer services to customers, the enforcement was overturned in court because they were not formally adopted rules.

The FCC adopted the rules in December 2010. Final rules were published in September and are set to take effect Nov. 20. The underlying principles of the rules are:

  • Transparency: Fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics and commercial terms of their broadband services.
  • No blocking: Fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services.
  • No unreasonable discrimination: Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

Congress has the power under the Congressional Review Act to nullify agency rules by enacting a joint resolution of disapproval. The resolution requires a simple majority in each house to pass and can’t be filibustered in the Senate. Once Congress enacts the resolution, an agency may not impose the same or substantially similar rules unless Congress enacts a new law specifically authorizing the rules.

The text of the companion resolutions now before the House and Senate is short and simple:

“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission relating to the matter of preserving the open Internet and broadband industry practices (Report and Order FCC 10-201, adopted by the Commission on Dec. 21, 2010), and such rule shall have no force or effect.”

The House version, which was introduced by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), was passed in April. The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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