House E&C Unanimously Approves Global Internet Freedom Bill

Democrat Support Comes After 'Freedom from Government Control' Language was Dropped

House E&C Unanimously Approves Global Internet Freedom Bill

Updated: Democrat support comes after "freedom from government control" language was dropped

By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/17/2013 9:57:27 AM

The House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday unanimously approved a bill establishing a multistakeholder model of global Internet governance as the official policy of the U.S.

That came after a phrase was dropped from the bill that had stood in the way of Democrat support.

In opening statements on the mark-up Wednesday on H.R. 1580, the bill "to affirm the policy of the United States regarding Internet governance," Rep. Henry Waxman ((D-Calif.), ranking member of the committee, said that there remained some issues he hoped would be worked through in the process, but that the deletion of the "freedom from government control language" from Sec. 2, which is the actual legal statement of U.S. policy, was a major step, and he urged his colleagues to vote the bill out of full committee. It did.

Waxman had said last week when the Republican-backed bill was voted out of subcommittee that he could not support it, but did not object to that voice vote after he and ranking subcommittee member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) secured assurances that their concerns would be discussed in meetings before the full-committee mark-up. Waxman had been concerned that the language could provide a back-door route to excising network neutrality rules.

The bill now says: "It is the policy of the United States to preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet."

Committee chairman Fred Upton, who did not have the same problem with that language, said in his opening statement that he had worked hard to address Waxman's and others' concerns and cited the "minor language changes" that he said still achieved "their shared objective," which is preserving that multistakeholder model. He also said the bill was still essentially the same as the bipartisan resolution both House and Senate approved unanimously.

That resolution, which did not have the force of law, passed in both House and Senate in the run-up to the WCIT telecom treaty conference in Dubai, which the U.S. ultimately declined to sign after language was inserted relating to the Internet that the U.S. saw as opening the door to possible top-down Internet governance pushed by countries including China, Russia and some Arab states.

Waxman and other Democrats had been concerned that making "freedom from government control" part of the policy definition could jeopardize both the FCC's ability to enforce its network neutrality rules and oversee the transition to IP delivery of video, voice and data.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) chair of the Communications subcommittee, said both last week and at Wednesday's hearing that he did not think the language created any statutorily mandated responsibilities and would have affected network neutrality rules or any others. But he said in a spirit of bipartisanship, the language had been dropped. But he added that he still opposed Internet neutrality rules, which he said regulated the Internet domestically.

"We appreciate the committee's effort to clarify that this legislation is directed at international concerns such as current attempts by Internet restricting countries to impose inter-governmental control over the content on the Internet," said the Computer and Communications Industry Association. "The legislation as now evolved should minimize any misuse of this policy statement here at home."