JOELLE TESSLER 02/18/11 12:07 AM
WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Thursday moved to block the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing new rules that prohibit broadband providers from interfering with Internet traffic on their networks.
With a 244-181 vote, Republican leaders succeeded in attaching an amendment to a sweeping spending bill that would bar the FCC from using government money to implement its new "network neutrality" regulations.
The rules prohibit phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against Internet content and services, including online calling services like Skype and Web video services like Netflix that could compete with their core operations. The FCC's three Democrats voted to adopt the regulations late last year over the opposition of the agency's two Republicans.
The rules are already facing court challenges from Verizon Communications Inc. and Metro PCS Communications Inc. Republicans in both chambers of Congress have introduced legislation to try to repeal the rules outright.
Republicans argue that the net neutrality rules amount to onerous and unnecessary regulations that will discourage phone and cable companies from continuing to upgrade their broadband networks by making it too hard for them to earn a healthy return on those investments. They also maintain that the FCC overstepped its authority in adopting the rules.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the sponsor of the spending bill amendment and chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said his measure is "about keeping the government out of the business of running the Internet."
The FCC had no comment Thursday.
The new FCC rules require broadband providers to let subscribers access all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks.
The rules do give providers flexibility to manage data on their systems to deal with network congestion and unwanted traffic, including spam, as long as they publicly disclose those practices. But they prohibit unreasonable network discrimination – a category that would likely include "paid prioritization," which favors the broadband providers' own traffic or the traffic of business partners that can pay extra.
The regulations also prohibit wireless carriers from blocking access to any websites or competing services such as Internet calling applications on mobile devices, and they require carriers to disclose their network management practices, too. Still, they do give wireless companies more flexibility to manage data traffic because wireless systems have less network bandwidth and can become overwhelmed with traffic more easily than wired lines.
While Republican efforts to repeal the FCC rules are likely to face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats remain in control, the regulations may be harder to defend in court.
Both Verizon and Metro PCS are challenging the rules in federal appeals court in the District of Columbia. That is the same court that ruled last year that the FCC had exceeded its legal authority in rebuking cable giant Comcast Corp. for blocking its subscribers from accessing an Internet file-sharing service used to trade online video and other big files. Comcast maintained that traffic from the service was clogging its network.
The agency said Comcast had violated broad net neutrality principles first established by the commission in 2005. Those principles served as a foundation for the formal rules adopted by the FCC late last year.