Net neutrality rules face uncertain future after House vote

The House of Representatives votes to prohibit the FCC from enacting the rules, but the provision may not survive

By , IDG News Service |  Government

Late last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a budget bill that included a prohibition on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission enforcing net neutrality rules, but it's unclear whether that provision will survive.

The Republican-controlled House voted early Saturday to approve the so-called continuing resolution, a short-term budget bill that would allow the federal government to operate beyond March 4, when funding approval expires. The bill, which includes US$61 billion in cuts to the federal government's budget, includes an amendment that would bar the FCC from using funding to implement net neutrality rules the agency approved in December.

But on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he planned to introduce his own short-term budget that would extend federal funding at current levels for 30 days. Some lawmakers have suggested they would prefer to shut down the government rather than compromise.

The dueling budget bills leave a cloudy future for the net neutrality provision. Some advocates in the net neutrality debate see little chance the provision will survive; others aren't so sure.

"It's unlikely in the extreme that the net neutrality provision in the continuing resolution will make it through the Senate, and we have heard no indication that it would be used as a bargaining chip," said Kamilla Kovacs, communications director at the Media Access Project, an advocacy group in favor of strong net neutrality rules. "Key Senate appropriators have expressed to us that they strongly oppose the measure."

But the provision may find some support in the Senate, said Claude Chafin, spokesman for Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican and critic of the FCC's net neutrality rules. Ten Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the net neutrality amendment.

"I would suggest that the FCC's unilateral appropriation of jurisdiction over the Internet has given many members pause," he said. "It is fair to assume that sentiment carries over to the Senate as well. Mrs. Blackburn believes the FCC amendment can survive in the Senate."

Critics of the FCC rules have said they are unnecessary regulation of the Internet that could hurt investment in broadband. The rules prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic and applications.

Supporters say the rules are needed to protect broadband customers and Web application providers from decisions by broadband providers to favor their own or their partners' traffic and applications over competitors. Supporters point to a handful of cases in recent years in which broadband providers have blocked or slowed Web applications.

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