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House Subcommittee Vote Unlikely to Impede Net Neutrality Rules

House Subcommittee Vote Unlikely to Impede Net Neutrality Rules

Whether the FCC will eventually implement its Net neutrality rules depends on many factors -- none of which include a House subcommittee's vote on Wednesday to overturn them. "This is a purely symbolic move by the Republicans," said telecom attorney Jonathan Kramer, who noted that the real threat to Net neutrality can be found several blocks from the Capitol at the D.C. Court of Appeals.

By Erika Morphy
03/10/11 11:57 AM PT

The House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee approved a joint resolution to overturn the Federal Communication Commission's Net neutrality rules on Wednesday.

The measure, which passed in a 15-8 vote, still needs to clear the full committee before moving to the House for consideration.

The Congressional Review Act provides Congress with an expedited process to nullify agency rules in this area, noted Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the subcommittee, in his opening statement before the markup.

In explaining the measure, Walden gave the reasons oft-cited by Net neutrality critics: The Internet works fine as is; the government will bungle it with overreach and kill jobs in the process; and the FCC overstepped its authority by asserting it had the right to regulate the Internet.

Neither the committee's spokesperson nor the FCC responded to the E-Commerce Times' requests for comment by press time.

The FCC's 3rd Way

This measure is a reaction to Net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC last year, based on the agency's contention that it has the authority to regulate Internet broadband providers as it does telecom service companies.

Title 2 of the Communications Act allows the FCC to apply a "narrowly tailored broadband framework" to regulate Internet traffic, according to Chairman Julius Genachowski, who proposed changing the classification of the transmission of broadband from its previous status of "information service" to that of "telecom service."

Never See The Light of Day

Whether the FCC will eventually implement its rules depends on many factors -- none of which include this House subcommittee vote. For it to have any measurable impact, the joint resolution would have to pass a full House vote, a full Senate vote, and then receive President Obama's signature.

"Legally speaking, the FCC can continue what it is doing unless a bill is enacted and signed by the president," Ryan Radia, an analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told the E-Commerce Times. "That is not likely to occur this session."

Still, the subcommittee vote was not a waste of time, Radia insisted. "It sends a strong signal there is a substantial widespread disapproval in Congress about FCC's Net neutrality decision, and there will continue to be pushback."

It also will make the FCC think twice about how it goes about implementing its Net neutrality rules, he suggested.

"At the very least, the agency will try to minimize any measures that are absolutely certain to inspire political blowback," Radia said.

The fact that the House is in Republican control must weigh heavily on the FCC as well, he noted. "The Republicans can hold hearings and compel testimony. Presumably, the FCC chairman does not want to be called to Capitol Hill to be routinely grilled by Congress."

Court Cases Loom

"This is a purely symbolic move by the Republicans," Jonathan L. Kramer, founding attorney of Kramer Telecom Law Firm, told the E-Commerce Times.

The real threat to Net neutrality can be found several blocks from the Capitol at the D.C. Court of Appeals, he continued, where Verizon filed suit earlier this year to stay the FCC's Net neutrality order. Verizon and other providers know that it is far cheaper for them to hire lawyers to challenge the order in the court system, he said, than to open up their networks.


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