The Federal Communications Commission approved sweeping new regulations on Tuesday prohibiting anticompetitive behavior on the Internet, but the political battle sparked by network neutrality is far from over. The rules were adopted on a 3-2 partisan vote, with the agency's three Democrats backing passage and the two Republican commissioners strongly opposed.
The regulations, which have sparked considerable controversy nationwide, are designed to ensure that the Internet is not dominated by major telecommunications and cable companies. The rules prohibit anticompetitive blocking and degrading of competing online services and are enforceable by the agency.
Republicans on Capitol Hill, who view the regulations as an unnecessary government intrusion in the marketplace, vowed to try to block them. Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas announced that she will introduce a “resolution of disapproval” in an effort to halt the rules.
Also critical was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who called net neutrality “a first step in controlling how Americans use the Internet by establishing federal regulations on its use.” He added: “This would harm investment, stifle innovation, and lead to job losses.”
The FCC action received some qualified praise from powerful Democrats, including Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. “While many champions of the open Internet would have preferred a stricter decision--and I myself have real reservations about treating wireless broadband differently from wired broadband--think today's decision is a meaningful step forward,” he wrote. Critics have complained that the rules are weak for wireless carriers even though Americans are fast gravitating to mobile broadband service.
“I think it’s a very good day for innovators, consumers, and the future of the Internet,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “What we’ve done today will foster a reinforcing cycle of investment,” he told reporters after the vote. But several prominent watchdogs, including Free Press and Public Knowledge, complained that the agency has failed to protect the Internet’s much-heralded openness.
National Journal reported earlier today that Verizon, the nation’s second-largest telecommunications carrier, may sue the FCC in an effort to overturn the rules--one of several parties that could pursue legal action.
“Lawsuits could come from both sides: companies that feel the FCC has gone too far and entities that don’t think the FCC went far enough,” Jeff Silva, a telecom analyst with Medley Global Advisors, said in an interview. During his press conference, Genachowski said he’s confident the agency would prevail in court.
The FCC's two Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, made clear that they’re unhappy with several provisions, including the less stringent rules for wireless carriers.
“To be clear, we do not anchor ourselves on what I believe to be the best legal framework,” Copps told the packed audience in the FCC meeting room. “Nor have we crafted rules as strong as I would have liked. But with today’s action, we do nonetheless appear to steer ourselves back toward a better course.”
In his vote, Copps concurred, which is the weakest form of approval. Clyburn approved in part and concurred in part, while Genachowski cast a yes vote.
The FCC met amid heavy police security both inside and outside the agency, as the debate over the future of the Internet drew national attention on the Drudge Report and elsewhere in the media during the run-up to the vote.
The agency’s two Republicans were blunt in their negative assessments of the effects of the new regulations. “It marks one of the darkest days in recent FCC history,” Commissioner Robert McDowell, the agency’s senior GOP member, said in a lengthy denunciation. “The FCC is capable of better--today is not its finest hour.”
Echoing the sentiment, Meredith Attwell Baker said she fears that the government will now play “too big a role” in shaping tomorrow’s Internet. “The FCC literally has no power to act until and unless Congress gives it power.”
Josh Smith contributed to this article