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Bid to Block Net Neutrality Dies in Senate

By Katherine Noyes E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Nov 10, 2011 3:06 PM PT

The Senate defeated a Republican bid to overturn Net neutrality rules on Thursday, thus paving the way for the regulations to take effect on Nov. 20.

Bid to Block Net Neutrality Dies in Senate

In a 52-to-46 vote along party lines, senators rejected S.J. Res. 6, the resolution proposed earlier this year by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) under the Congressional Review Act. Hutchison and other Republicans had argued that the new rules proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last December would overextend federal regulatory authority and stifle innovation.

A majority in both chambers and President Obama's signature would have been required to pass the resolution, which the White House had already vowed to veto.

'Consumers Should Have Control'

Published in September, the FCC rules are designed to protect consumers by ensuring that everyone has equal access to the Internet. Toward that end, they demand transparency from providers; a ban on blocking sites, applications and services; and a ban on unreasonable discrimination.

Intense debate has surrounded the rules ever since their inception, however, including even criticism from some who say they did not go far enough. Media reform group Free Press, in particular, sued the FCC in September, charging that the rules needed to be stronger.

Still, many Net neutrality supporters were pleased with Thursday's decision.

"The United States Senate today made it clear that consumers should have control over their experiences on an open Internet," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and cofounder of Public Knowledge, for example. "Despite the cloak of anti-government rhetoric of the legislation's opponents, the reality is that a defeat of the resolution would have given control over to Big Telecom companies for their benefit on an Internet manipulated for their benefit."

'A Sad Day for the Internet'

Opponents, not surprisingly, expressed dismay.

"Apparently, a majority in the Senate believe the FCC must fix what ain't broke on the Internet, standing behind the agency's unwarranted Net Neutrality regulations," countered Mike Wendy, director of MediaFreedom.org.

"Though the Net's explosive growth did not rely on government mandate to occur, unless the court strikes these regulations down, FCC bureaucrats will decide the growth and advancement of the Internet from now on," Wendy added. "This is a sad day for the Internet."

'The Very Fabric of the Internet'

The issues involved in Net neutrality "concern the very fabric of the Internet: Who controls [it], and can a toll be levied?" Raymond Van Dyke, a Washington, D.C.-based technology attorney and consultant, told the E-Commerce Times.

"On the one hand are the infrastructure players that incur enormous costs to enable the Internet to function at all," Van Dyke explained. "With the technological and economic upheavals in the telecom industry, they would like to protect and promote their own content where possible."

On the other hand, meanwhile, are the content providers and consumers, who "generally want unrestricted access to Internet content," he added. "In the context of the FCC rules in question, they want net neutrality" and the associated protections from data discrimination.

'A Landlord/Tenant Disagreement'

Politically, "the Republicans are against the FCC restrictions on the telecom, phone and cable companies, and Democrats are totally for the content owners," Van Dyke pointed out. "It is basically a landlord/tenant disagreement. The landlord doesn't want the lease changed to restrict use on the land, and the tenant wants unfettered use of the property in question."

With the enormous economic consequences involved, there will surely be further attempts to tweak the FCC rules, "particularly in view of the partisan divide," he predicted.

Further, if there's a Republican win in 2012, "the current 3-2 majority by Democrats in the FCC will be adjusted, and the two 'principles' added by current [Democratic] FCC Chair Julius Genachowski will likely be dropped," Van Dyke noted.

"The landlords will have more to say on this," he predicted.

'We Will See Many More Attempts'

"Did you ever have something stuck in your throat and you don't know whether to swallow it or cough it up? That's Net neutrality," telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times. "This is one of the issues I find it impossible to have an opinion on; parts make sense, and other parts don't."

Add in the political factors, and "it is a crazy stew," he added.

The current Senate move was "a full stop," Kagan opined -- "until it gets started again. It will never be stopped. The argument has been with us for many years, and will stay with us for many more."

In fact, "we will see many more attempts, back and forth, start and stop over the next few years," Kagan predicted. "Isn't politics beautiful?"


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