CORRECTION: The original version of this report incorrectly stated Rep. Henry Waxman’s position on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He is the ranking Democrat.
Culminating months of heated debate, the House approved a “resolution of disapproval” on Friday that nullifies controversial Internet regulations approved by the Democratic-run Federal Communications Commission in December.
The GOP-backed measure passed 240-179, with six Democrats supporting it.
The resolution would torpedo network-neutrality rules that prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing competitors operating over their high-speed Internet networks. Proponents say that the restrictions are needed to protect consumers and competition, but critics dismiss the rules as unnecessary government meddling that could chill investment.
Although President Obama already has vowed to veto the resolution, its passage deals a blow to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, who has sought to portray the rules as a light-touch step to preserve the openness that is the Internet’s hallmark.
In the Democratic-controlled Senate, a similar resolution offered in February by retiring Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, appears to face a steep climb.
“I’m disappointed that House leadership wants to undo the integrity of the FCC’s process and unravel their good work,” Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a statement. “Americans want the Internet to remain free and open, and the FCC’s net-neutrality rules provided just that.”
Consumer advocates quickly criticized passage of the resolution as a win for major communications companies. In written statements, Public Knowledge called it a “shame” that the House was protecting the interests of telecom carriers over "entrepreneurs." Free Press suggested that congressional supporters of the measure are “oblivious” to the harms that would be caused to innovation and free expression by removing the rules.
In House floor debate on Friday before the vote, both sides argued that AT&T, the nation’s largest telecom carrier, is on their side. Although AT&T endorsed the FCC’s neutrality safeguards, House Energy and Commerce's Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said that the company did so grudgingly because it could not block them.
Republicans argued that the FCC rules are a regulation in search of a problem that does not exist. “The Internet is open and innovative thanks to the government’s hands-off approach,” Walden said. “There is no crisis warranting government intervention.”
House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., agreed, saying: “The Internet is not broken, and this bill will ensure that the Internet does not break it.”
Democrats, meanwhile, dismissed the resolution as a giveaway to large corporations that could place the Internet under the control of cable and telecom firms.
“The Republican leadership insists on bringing to the floor a bill that will end the Internet as we know it and threaten the jobs, investment, and prosperity the Internet has brought to America,” said House Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “This legislation is a bad bill.”
Rep.Anna Eshoo of California, the top Democrat on Walden’s subcommittee, lamented that Congress was focused on this matter when the federal government was poised to shut down due to an impasse over the fiscal 2011 budget. She characterized the resolution as an "ideological assault" on the FCC.