FCC net neutrality rules overturned

As anticipated, the US House of Representatives has voted to overturn the so-called ‘net neutrality’ rules designed to create an open Internet. A clash with the Senate and President Obama is now certain to follow.

The House voted 240 to 179 in favour of a Republican-backed resolution that seeks to block the rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The vote largely followed party lines, although six Democrats joined the Republicans in voting for the resolution and two Republicans opposed it.

The five-member, Democratic-controlled FCC agreed in December 2010 to the rules aimed at safeguarding ‘network neutrality’, which provides that lawful Web traffic should be treated equally.

The Senate, which has a Democrat majority, is unlikely to pass a measure similar to that approved by the House and the White House has threatened a veto if the resolution reaches President Obama’s desk.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, described the successful resolution as “an important step to bring down the FCC’s harmful and partisan plan to regulate the Internet,” suggesting that the FCC’s regulations gave the government “unwarranted authority to control broadband networks which ultimately will hinder a thriving industry, harm competition and stifle innovation.”

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi of California suggested the resolution “takes us in the wrong direction; revoking basic consumer protections, eliminating competition, and shutting off outlets of innovation.”

The rules, as formulated by the FCC, sought to maintain a balance between support for consumers and the cable and telephone companies that are the main Internet Service Providers in the United States. As such, they would prevent fixed broadband providers from blocking lawful content, applications or services, providing their own video content at a faster speed, for example, than that of a rival.

Furthermore, wireless providers may not block access to lawful websites or applications that compete directly with their own voice or video telephony services but they could potentially block other applications or services.

Fixed broadband providers can also charge consumers according to usage, a metered pricing practice already used by some wireless carriers.

US telco Verizon filed a legal challenge to the FCC’s rules in January but a federal appeals court rejected it as “premature” because the FCC had yet to publish the rules in the Federal Register.

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