Congress Abandons Net Neutrality Bill

Congress Abandons Net Neutrality Bill

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-California) has given up for the year on an effort to create bipartisan legislation that would prevent broadband providers from interfering with traffic over their networks.

Waxman’s net neutrality bill would have prohibited Internet, cable and phone companies from slowing or blocking traffic to legal web sites, protocols and services, which would otherwise allow them to play favorites with online content – and while Internet providers have claimed they would engage in neutral practice with or without a bill, cable company RCN was recently sued for “delaying or blocking” P2P protocols.

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Although the bill would have benefited wireless companies, Waxman stated that his proposal couldn’t garner enough support from House Republicans to advance any further in Congress. That gives the debate back over to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has the ability to regulate wireless network providers by reclassifying them as Title II common carrier services – essentially equating them with cable and phone companies. That type of regulation would allow the FCC to impose traffic equality laws on all carriers, where under Waxman’s proposal, wireless providers would have been exempt. Verizon, AT&T and wireless association CTIA have opposed the FCC’s measures, while Google, Facebook and Skype, among various public interest groups, have strongly supported them.

“If our efforts to find bipartisan consensus fail, the FCC should move forward under Title II,” said Waxman. “The bottom line is that we must protect the open Internet. If Congress can’t act, the FCC must. This development is a loss for consumers.”

During President Obama’s election campaign, he promised to make net neutrality a top issue in his technology platform. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in September 2009 that without net neutrality, “We could see the Internet’s doors shut to entrepreneurs, the spirit of innovation stifled, a full and free flow of information compromised. If we wait too long to preserve a free and open Internet, it will be too late.” Since Congress failed to pass the legislation Thursday, many public interest groups have begun to call on the FCC to make good on its promises.

Among the dissenting Republicans is Texas Rep. Joe Barton, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton stated, “there is a widespread view that there is not sufficient time to ensure that Chairman Waxman’s proposal will keep the Internet open without chilling innovation and job creation … if the majority wants to work on a solution to continue a free and open Internet, let’s consider the issue deliberately, rather than punting with a halfway measure two days before the end of Congress.”

But Barton also emphasized his opposition to the potential FCC regulations, stating that the commission is “going down the wrong path … it is not appropriate to give the FCC authority to regulate the Internet.”