Moral Low Ground


Republicans Prepare to Fight FCC Net Neutrality Rules

Net neutrality protest at the White House, November 2014. (Joseph Gruber)

Net neutrality protest at the White House, November 2014. (Joseph Gruber)

As their numbers and confidence swell, Republicans in Congress are preparing to fight the Obama administration’s plans to protect net neutrality.

The Wall Street Journal reports Republicans are looking at a number of options to thwart proposed rules designed to protect net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

Many conservatives accuse the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of government overreach and over-regulation. GOP lawmakers oppose a plan by President Barack Obama, part of which would result in Internet service providers (ISPs) being reclassified and regulated as utilities, claiming it will stifle innovation.

“The regulatory tools at the FCC’s disposal are outdated and its previous efforts to create rules to regulate the Internet were struck down by the courts,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement. “It’s hard to imagine that its new attempt will escape legal challenges and avoid the kind of regulatory uncertainty that harms Internet innovation and investment.”

The measures being considered by Republicans include legislation blocking ISP reclassification and even cutting the FCC’s budget. They may also consider invoking the rarely-used Congressional Review Act, which permits Congress to void rules made by federal agencies.

Last year, the FCC was hard at work drafting new rules for how Internet service providers (ISPs) manage their networks. Last November, President Barack Obama voiced his strongest support for net neutrality to date, urging the FCC to adopt the strictest possible protections.

“Ever since the Internet was created, it’s been organized around basic principles of openness, fairness and freedom,” Obama said. “There are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access. There are no ‘toll roads’ on the information superhighway.”

“This set of principles — the idea of net neutrality — has unleashed the power of the Internet and given innovators the chance to thrive,” the president continued. “Abandoning these principles would threaten to end the Internet as we know it.”

“We cannot allow ISPs to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” Obama added.

The president proposed a four-point plan to protect net neutrality. It would prevent ISPs from blocking user access to legal content, ban them from “throttling,” or intentionally speeding up or slowing down service, prohibit paid prioritization, or “Internet fast lanes,” and increase transparency.

The FCC recently announced it will vote on the new rules next month.

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