FCC Net-Neutrality Rules Disputed by Republican-Led House

The House of Representatives has voted to overturn FCC net-neutrality rules that were approved in December, when Democrats held the majority, and which prompted a Verizon lawsuit.

The House of Representatives has voted to overturn the net-neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission proposed in December, when the Democrats, instead of Republicans, held a majority of the House's seats.

The Feb. 17 vote was spearheaded by the Republicans, who believe the FCC overstepped its authority in acting to regulate the Internet-or "to preserve the Internet as an open network enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression ... and the freedom to innovate," as FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, phrased it at the time-and seeks to block the funding to implement the December plan.

The measure, approved in a voice vote, was added as an amendment to a spending bill that will fund the government for the rest of its fiscal year, Reuters reported, but in order to become law, it will need to pass in the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority of seats. It then would need President Obama's signature.

At the heart of the net-neutrality debate are generally three issues: transparency about the practices of broadband providers and wireless carriers; whether to allow providers to block access to competitors' applications or sites; and whether all traffic should flow at the same speed, or faster access should be allowed for those willing to pay for it.

Debating the matter Feb. 17, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said the new rules would bar innovation and kill jobs.

Genachowski presented his position in a statement released Feb. 16. In it, he noted that historically the FCC has "agreed on a bipartisan basis on both the importance of Internet freedom and openness, and on the idea that government action is sometimes necessary to protect it." He goes on to say that in October 2009, following the example of his Republican predecessor, he initiated a comprehensive public process to set up "high-level rules of the road" for the widely shared goal of preserving the Internet's freedom and openness.

What followed, he said, were numerous public workshops and hundreds of stakeholder discussions, and what was learned was that a number of the nation's leading investors and entrepreneurs believed "their willingness to deploy capital and start and grow businesses was at risk without high-level rules of the road to ensure the Internet would remain an open platform."

The FCC, Genachowski said, heard from broadband providers that their engineers "need discretion to manage their networks to address challenges such as spam and congestion," from providers who said that, to earn a return on their investments in network infrastructure, they need "flexibility to innovate with respect to business models," and from others who said that "overly prescriptive rules" would stifle innovation and investment. Consequently, a framework was drawn up that he believes takes all sides into account and:

"... preserves consumers' freedom to go where they want, use the lawful services they want, and read and say what they want online. And it preserves the freedom for innovators and entrepreneurs to launch new products, reach new markets, and continue driving America's innovation economy. It also ensures a level playing field. No central entity, public or private, should have the power to pick which ideas or companies win or lose on the Internet; that's the role of the free market and the marketplace of ideas."

Following December's approval of the new rules, some criticized it as diluted and ineffectual, while others said it went too far.

Verizon, taking the latter position, filed a suit against the FCC Jan. 20, explaining in a statement that the FCC's "assertion of authority goes well beyond any authority provided by Congress, and creates uncertainty for the communications industry, innovators, investors and consumers."

Shortly afterward, MetroPCS filed a suit as well. While in a statement the carrier's CEO and president Roger D. Linquist said he had "concerns regarding the jurisdictional basis for the Net-Neutrality rules," the rules would also prohibit the carrier's practice of blocking Skype and other services that compete with its MetroStudio voice service.

As yet, all matters remain unsettled.