GOP Votes to Prevent FCC Funding for New Open Web Rules

Republicans side with big telecom companies to decide the future of the Internet.

By Jamilah King Feb 17, 2011

The GOP’s attack on net neutrality has officially begun and users of color, who have a lot at stake in the debate, are caught in the middle. House Republicans voted on Thursday to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from using funds to implement recently passed net neutrality rules. The vote was held on an amendment introduced earlier this week by Communications and Technology Subcommittee chair Rep. Greg Walden, and is part of a two-pronged GOP effort that would need to pass both houses of Congress and not be vetoed by President Obama in order to take effect.

Thursday’s vote came after two Congressional hearings were held this week on net neutrality, where Republican lawmakers grilled all five members of the FCC on new rules adopted late last year to prevent service providers from blocking traffic on their networks. The rules were passed in December by a 3-2 bipartisan vote, and were routinely criticized by Web advocates for not being tough enough. The rules didn’t mention any restrictions for burgeoning mobile carriers, a noticeably omission that at least one, Metro PCS, has taken advantage of in the months since.

Forty GOP Senators, led by Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchinson, filed a resolution earlier this week to terminate funding for the FCC’s rules altogether. The effort is made possible by the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn regulations passed by federal agencies. 

"We held a hearing [Wednesday] in which we gave the commissioners of the FCC one more opportunity to provide sufficient evidence of a crisis that warrants government intervention," wrote Republican Rep. Fred Upton in a statement, according to Politico. "They failed. The controversial Internet regulations stifle innovation, investment and jobs. A federal bureaucracy should not be picking winners and losers."

But supporters of net neutrality disagree. "Without some clear rules of the road, large companies can carve up the Internet into fast and slow lanes, charging a toll for content and blocking innovators from entering the information superhighway," Rep. Anna Eshoo told the Wall Street Journal.

Open Web advocates Public Knowledge, along with the Center for Media Justice and Media Action Grassroots Network, dubbed Thursday the National Day of Action for the Internet Strikes Back.

The effort to undermine the FCC’s Web rules likely won’t go far, at least in the near future. President Obama has supported the rules, and last week revealed an ambitious — and troubled — plan to expand the country’s wireless access. But that doesn’t mean that the effort couldn’t have much bigger implications in the future.

"Even with a presidential veto, a successful majority vote in Congress to end an open Internet will give political leverage to a future Senate appointed FCC to end rules on its own," wrote Ernesto Falcon of Public Knowledge, a DC-based advocacy group. "Given how a [Congressional Review Act] repeal vote works, it is virtually guaranteed that these votes will happen and soon."