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House Net Neutrality Proposal Falls Apart

A network neutrality proposal floated by Democratic members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee this week has stalled after a top Republican declined to support it.

Representative Joe Barton of Texas, the senior Republican member of the committee, said he would not support a net neutrality proposal offered by Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, a California Democrat.

Waxman's proposals would have prohibited wired broadband providers from "unjustly or unreasonably" discriminating against legal Web traffic, but would not apply that prohibition to mobile providers. The bill would have prohibited all broadband providers from blocking consumer access to websites and from blocking legal websites, and it would have prohibited the U.S. Federal Communications Commission from reclassifying broadband as a regulated common-carrier service for two years.

Waxman, in a statement, said he was disappointed that Barton has rejected the proposal after the committee included Republican staffers in its deliberations. The proposal would have allowed both broadband providers and consumers to "emerge as winners," he said. "Consumers would win protections that preserve the openness of the Internet, while the Internet service providers would receive relief from their fears of reclassification."

The proposal would likely move forward only with bipartisan support, Waxman added. The committee may try to push forward on net neutrality legislation after November's elections, he said, when a lame-duck session of Congress is likely.

The lack of Republican support "is a loss for consumers and a gain only for the extremes," he added. "We need to break the deadlock on net neutrality so that we can focus on building the most open and robust Internet possible."

Republican members of the committee expressed concern that the net neutrality proposal could harm the broadband sector, Barton said in a statement. Barton applauded Waxman for the part of the proposal that would prevent the FCC from moving forward on its plan to reclassify broadband in an effort to pass formal net neutrality rules there.

"I have consulted with Republican leadership and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and 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," Barton said. "This is not a solution for the future of the Internet. America should be about preserving the vibrant and competitive free market that exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by federal or state regulation."

Barton called on the committee to "consider the issue deliberately, rather than punting with a halfway measure" days before Congress recesses for the November elections.

Some net neutrality supporters called on the FCC to move forward with its plan to create formal rules. Any Republican support of the Waxman plan would have come only as a way to prohibit the FCC from "upholding the public interest" and creating net neutrality rules, said Cathy Sloan, vice president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association trade group representing IT companies.

"The problem is not this FCC; it's the total void in safeguards for public broadband Internet access caused by massive agency deregulation over the last 10 years, a court decision in April, and the gross overreaction and lobbying blitz led by a few large corporations that oppose the FCC proposal for very minimal rules to ensure quality Internet access for everyone," she said in a statement.

In April, a U.S. appeals court ruled that the FCC did not have the authority to enforce informal net neutrality principles in a case involving Comast's throttling of some peer-to-peer traffic.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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