Net neutrality rules survive Senate vote

The Senate on Nov. 10 voted down a resolution to nullify the Federal Communications Commission’s controversial net neutrality rules for broadband Internet providers, clearing the way for the rules to go into effect Nov. 20.

The FCC adopted the rules in December 2010 after a failed attempt to stop a major Internet service provider from degrading some peer-to-peer service to customers. The rules prohibit carriers from interfering with customer service based on the content being accessed and require the disclosure of network management practices.

The administration statement called the rules “an enforceable, effective but flexible policy for keeping the Internet free and open,” but opponents called it a power grab by unelected officials.

“Establishing the FCC as the Internet’s gatekeeper will stifle innovation,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who introduced the resolution to nullify the rules. “Regulators should not regulate without Congress’s explicit approval.”

A motion to proceed with the resolution was defeated by a vote of 52 against to 46 in favor, effectively taking the issue off the Senate’s calendar, although it did not kill it outright.

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 cannot be filibustered in Senate. The resolution, which the House passed in April, says 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.”

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 Obama administration earlier in the week issued a policy statement disapproving of the resolution, saying that senior advisers would recommend its veto if it came to the president’s desk.

The Free Press Action Fund, a media advocacy group, called the resolution dangerous and praised the vote as a victory for consumers.

“The American public doesn't want phone and cable companies undercutting competition, deciding which websites will work or censoring what people can do online,” Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. He called on the FCC to strengthen net neutrality rules by applying them fully to mobile devices as well as PCs.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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