House Subcommittee Votes to Kill Net Neutrality

A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee has voted in favor of a resolution to throw out the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's recently adopted net neutrality rules.

The communications subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 15-8 along party lines for a resolution of disapproval that would overturn the FCC's rules. Those rules would prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic.

The resolution would also prohibit the FCC from re-attempting to create similar net neutrality rules.

The FCC lacks legal authority to pass the rules, and government intervention would hurt the Internet, said Representative Greg Walden, the subcommittee's chairman and an Oregon Republican. "The Internet works pretty well -- it's the government that doesn't," he said.

The net neutrality rules will slow investment in broadband networks, Walden added. "These regulations will cost jobs," he said.

The resolution will next go to the full committee, and if approved there, to the full House. If the Republican-controlled House approves the resolution, it would then move to the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority. The Senate is unlikely to pass the resolution.

Subcommittee Republicans pushed through the resolution despite statements from AT&T and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association saying they could live with the rules. AT&T would prefer no net neutrality regulations, but the rules passed by the FCC Dec. 21 represent a better solution than an earlier FCC proposal to impose additional common-carrier regulations, said James Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs.

The FCC's net neutrality rules are consistent with AT&T's business practices, Cicconi said. "We do think it's a reasonable middle ground," he said.

Net neutrality rules are needed to allow small businesses to use the Web without interference from broadband providers, said Robin Chase, co-founder of car-sharing service Zipcar. An open Internet was essential to Zipcar's success, she said.

"Network neutrality is not excessive regulation that will stifle innovation," she said. "Network neutrality promotes innovation and protects consumers by preventing telecommunications companies from stifling new thinking, new services and new applications."

Democratic lawmakers argued that the resolution was taking committee time away from more pressing broadband matters, including proposals to free up new spectrum and the creation of a nationwide, mobile public safety network. The resolution, given its dim chances in the Senate, is a "waste of time," said Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat.

The net neutrality rules allow Web users to control their online experiences, she added. "We want the consumers to make the choice, not corporations," she said.

Democrats tried to offer seven amendments to the resolution, but Walden struck them all down. Republicans introduced the resolution under the little-used Congressional Review Act, a streamlined legislative process that makes it difficult to make amendments.

While Cicconi said AT&T can live with the net neutrality rules, Verizon Communications and mobile provider MetroPCS Wireless have filed court challenges. The rules would hurt wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) that don't have the bandwidth to deliver high-definition video and other bandwidth-intensive services, said Tom DeReggi, president of RapidDSL and Wireless, a Maryland broadband provider.

DeReggi told lawmakers he may want to block services like Netflix because they take up too much bandwidth for WiMax-based broadband. The FCC rules unfairly create the same rules for WISPs that they do for fiber-based broadband providers, he said.

"One size does not work and does not fit all," DeReggi said.

Many of his customers operate home-based businesses, but services like Netflix compromise those businesses, DeReggi said. "You block the source of the problem," he said. "Broadband provides jobs, not HD video."

Eshoo disagreed, saying Neflix has created hundreds of jobs in recent years.

But net neutrality rules will hurt both broadband providers and Web application providers, by discouraging network investment, said Anna-Maria Kovacs, an investment analyst with Strategic Choices. "Far more devastating to Google, Skype and Netflix than being charged for transport is an Internet whose evolution and capacity are flash-frozen for lack of investment," she said. "Their innovative applications can only follow a step behind the network's capacity and quality."

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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