WASHINGTON, March 16, 2011 – The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted in favor of a resolution Tuesday that would undo the Federal Communications Commission’s recent net neutrality rules; the measure will now go before the full House for a vote.
The resolution of disapproval, H.J.Res 37, represents a seldom-used procedural maneuver wherein Congress formally disapproves and reverses an agency action. The measure passed the committee by a vote of 30 – 23.
The FCC passed the rules in its Open Internet Order in December. The order provided three guidelines by which internet service providers must abide in their offerings to consumers. First, the commission said, ISPs must provide services in a transparent manner by disclosing their network management practices and performance characteristics. Second, network providers must not block lawful content from their customers, and third, providers may not unreasonably discriminate by prioritizing certain network traffic without sufficient reason.
The pending resolution has crystallized the debate over the order in recent weeks, with those in favor of the FCC’s rules saying that they protect consumers and businesses from the whims of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that seek to act as gatekeepers and block or slow down content in order to prevent competition.
Opponents of the rules say that any instances of blocking or “throttling” – slowing down traffic across a network – are isolated, that in large part the Internet is working fine and that the measure is an improper overreach of the FCC’s authority that will stifle competition and introduce uncertainty into the marketplace.
The debate has fallen heavily along party lines, with Democrats in favor of the FCC’s rules and Republicans against them.
“The open Internet ecosystem has allowed innovative companies to generate tens of thousands of jobs and competition,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, through a statement Tuesday. “By repealing rules to protect the hallmarks of the Internet, the Republican resolution will create market uncertainty, stifle consumer choice, and harm innovation and job creation. Americans overwhelmingly oppose practices which limit a free and open Internet, but Republicans have turned a deaf ear.”
Meanwhile, Energy and Commerce Republicans lauded the passage of the measure as a victory and looked to the next steps before the full House.
“I applaud the committee’s approval of [the measure] that will next be considered by the full House as we work to create jobs, keep energy costs from rising unnecessarily, and rein in the explosive expansion of government,” said Rep. Fred Upton (D-MI), Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “We will not allow this administration to regulate what it had failed to legislate last Congress.”
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