House Communications Subcommittee Votes 15-8 To Block FCC Net Rules

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After Democrats tried to introduce a number of amendments that were all ruled non-germane, the House Communications Subcommittee voted 15 to 8 Wednesday to block the Federal Communications Commission's just-passed network neutrality rules.

According to a committee spokesperson, all 15 yes votes were Republicans, all no votes by Democrats. However, three Democrats, Reps. Frank Pallone (N.J.), Bobby Rush (Ill.) and Karen Bass (Calif.), didn't vote.

The vote came after a substantive hearing Wednesday on the joint resolution (J.HR 37) of disapproval, a legislative mechanism for blocking agency actions by Congress.

The resolution is not expected to make it to the President's desk, given the Democratically controlled Senate.

"This is a destructive resolution that threatens openness and innovation on the Internet," said former Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in his opening statement. "Instead of protecting the consumer, this action will tie the hands of the FCC and give broadband network operators a green light to block from consumers any applications, content, and services they choose to block.

"We are disappointed but not surprised by the House Communications Subcommittee's vote to roll back the open Internet rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission last December," said Public Knowledge founder Gig Sohn.

"It is discouraging that the subcommittee members based their votes on the unfounded notion that the FCC was trying to regulate the Internet' and was exceeding its authority. The Commission is in no way regulating the Internet. It was merely attempting to return to a modest level of traditional authority needed to safeguard the rights of Internet users and entrepreneurs like Chase."

Subcommittee Republicans argue that the FCC is exceeding its authority and imposing new regs, on speculation of harms not proved, on an internet ecosystem that was thriving without them.

During the markup, at which Republicans passed on opening statements to get on with the vote on the single-paragraph resolution, Democrats warned that it could prevent the FCC from exercising authority in some key areas like public safety and privacy.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), one of whose amendments was ruled non-germane, said he wanted to make sure the committee was not making removing FCC oversight from insuring the building of a broadband public safety network, or prohibiting online child pornography or fraud.

Subcommittee hairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) pointed out that committee counsel had assured them it did not, and knocked down each amendment on non-germaneness not long after it was introduced. Other amendments included on transparency and non-blocking of Web sites, both issues addressed in the FCC network neutrality regs the committee voted to invalidate.

"We are deeply disappointed that Congress has chosen to move forward with this dangerous overreach that would hamstring the FCC and leave Internet users unprotected from discrimination online," said Free Press Research Director Derek Turner. "If this resolution becomes law, companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon will have free rein to censor free speech or block access to any website."

Turner testified against the resolution at the legislative hearing preceding the vote.

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