The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Friday, with the support of a handful of Democrats, passed a joint resolution to repeal the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) net neutrality regulations that would enforce competitive behavior among Internet companies.
Democrats who voted in favor of the resolution along with their Republican colleagues are Reps. Dan Boren (D-Oklahoma), Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia), a conservative Blue Dog, David Scott (D-Georgia), Kurt Shrader (D-Oregon), Bennie Thompson (D-Mississippi) and Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota).
H.J. Res. 37, which disapproves of FCC rules “relating to the matter of preserving the open Internet and broadband industry practices,” passed 240-179. The resolution will now be sent to the Senate for a vote, where it is unlikely to be approved by the Democratic majority.
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As Truthout previously reported, the resolution of disapproval is a rarely used procedure that allows Congress to formally reject and reverse the actions of a federal agency. House Republicans previously introduced a resolution of disapproval last November to overturn the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, but were unsuccessful.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee, said the anti-net neutrality resolution amounted to Congress recognizing that it had not “authorized the FCC to regulate the Internet.”
“If not challenged, the FCC's power grab would allow it to regulate any interstate communications service on barely more than a whim and without any additional input from Congress,” Walden said.
Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for the Consumers Union, said FCC regulations are necessary to prevent Internet providers from limiting or blocking access to legal websites.
“When consumers spend money on Internet service, they expect to be able to surf the web openly,” Desai said. “Internet providers should not limit your choices to their preferred sites. That's why we need rules, like the FCC’s framework, to maintain an open Internet.”
Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California), whose district includes Facebook and Google as constituent companies, said that if the resolution “were about innovation, jobs, competition, or consumers, the majority wouldn't really be offering it, because it disables a free and open Internet,” noting that “more than 150 organizations… have lined up against it.”
During a House committee hearing on April 4, Eshoo said that “without the FCC's basic 'rules of the road,' nothing will prevent large corporations from carving the Internet into fast and slow lanes, deciding which sources of news, information, and entertainment consumers and business can access.”
One of the major backers of the anit-net neutrality resolution is Freedom Works, a right-wing nonprofit organization, that has received funding from Verizon and AT&T, who stand to benefit if the law is overturned, and the Koch Brothers family fountain.
The group's president, Matt Kibbe, said net neutrality, “is likely to cripple competition, restrict innovation, reduce employment and raise costs for all consumers… The FCC's net neutrality regulations would restrict the freedom of all Internet users while further harming our fragile economy.” .
While a majority of Democrats and Republicans voted on the resolution along party lines, several representatives did agree that the timing of the vote symbolized the potentially destructive sparring in Congress.
“We would not be here today if the Democrats in the last Congress had bothered to take up a budget and pass it or even vote on it,” Walden said; Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Washington) asked his colleagues, “Why are we considering H.J. Res. 37 when we are on the verge of shutting down the House of Representatives?”
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California), ranking member of the Energy & Commerce Committee, said that H.J. Res. 37 “would give big phone and cable companies control over what websites Americans can visit, what applications they can run, and what devices they can use. The Internet may be the greatest engine in our economy today… [because] it is open.”
One question that remains unanswered is whether the FCC actually has the authority to regulate the Internet. A federal appeals court in April 2010 ruled that the commission does not have that power, stating that Congress must have explicitly authorize it to do so; rather, the FCC has “ancillary jurisdiction” granted by sections of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.