GOP Senators Move to Stop Obama Net Neutrality Rules

by Ryan Singel
September 21, 2009

A top Republican senator introduced legislation Monday to block the Obama administration’s attempt to impose formal net neutrality rules, just hours after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced he would seek groundbreaking new limits on ISPs — both wireline and wireless.

The new rules are intended to guarantee that citizens can use their choice of devices, services and applications, and to prevent ISPs from discriminating against services or creating high and low roads on the internet. Supporters say net neutrality rules will protect consumers and sets fair rules for all.

But Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is no fan. She has expressed her reservations that the FCC’s move would suffocate internet innovation, a view shared by the telecom industry, which says such rules are stifling and unnecessary. On Monday, she attached her amendment to a funding bill for the Interior Department.

The amendment is as simple as legislation gets:

The Federal Communications Commission shall not expend any funds from any account in fiscal year 2010—
(1) to implement any internet neutrality or network management principles; or (2) to promulgate any rules relating to such principles.

Hutchison, a Texas gubernatorial candidate and the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology committee, was joined by five fellow Republicans: John Ensign (Nevada), Sam Brownback (Kansas), David Vitter (Louisiana), Jim DeMint (South Carolina) and John Thune (South Dakota). While the amendment is unlikely to stop Obama’s drive to deliver on his campaign promise to back new limits on ISPs, it does show that the adoption of the rules will not be a bloodless fight.

“We must tread lightly when it comes to new regulations,” Hutchison said. “Where there have been a handful of questionable actions in the past on the part of a few companies, the Commission and the marketplace have responded swiftly. The case has simply not been made for what amounts to a significant regulatory intervention into a vibrant marketplace.”

The cases Hutchison refers to includes an ISP blocking internet telephone calls, Verizon prohibiting text messages based on their political content and Comcast blocking peer-to-peer traffic.

Oddly, Hutchison’s press release seems to define “net neutrality” as something the senator supports.

Net neutrality refers to policies that promote the internet as an open platform for innovation and economic growth, while discouraging intentional discrimination against particular content or applications. These basic principles have been in place for years and have successfully spurred major advances in content, applications and performance with minimal government involvement.

But a Hutchison staff member, speaking on background, says the language is in keeping with the senator’s belief that the internet currently is open and working well, and that the market has fixed itself, after a small number of high-profile cases.

Genachowski’s staff has already spoken with Hutchinson’s staff, offering to brief them on the details of their plan. After that, the senator will decide whether to pursue the amendment further as the Senate takes up debate on the Interior bill later this week.

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