The House May Block Funding to Implement the FCC's Net Neutrality Rules

Substantive disagreements over Internet regulation cannot be kept out of the current appropriations battle in Congress. One version of a FY 2011 appropriations bill recently approved by the House included language that would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from using any of its funding to implement its recently issued "network neutrality" regulations. The FCC's regulations, adopted on December 21, 2010, purport to "preserve the Internet as an open network enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, user control, competition and the freedom to innovate." They attempt to accomplish these goals in five main ways. First, broadband (cable or DSL) Internet service providers must disclose to the public information about how they manage their networks, the performance of these networks, and various commercial terms for network services. Second, subject only to "reasonable" restrictions needed to manage their networks, broadband Internet service providers may not block users from accessing or using any otherwise lawful applications or content, and they may not block the use of any lawful devices. Third, broadband Internet service providers may not discriminate "unreasonably" among users or uses in transmitting traffic through their networks. Fourth, broadband Internet service providers can "reasonably" alter their services to ease traffic congestion, to address harmful traffic, or to comply with other laws such as those requiring priority for emergency responder communications or blocking of transmission of child pornography. Finally, the FCC applied its disclosure and basic no-blocking rules to mobile-phone-based broadband Internet service providers. But recognizing that mobile broadband "is at an earlier stage in its development than fixed broadband and is evolving rapidly," the FCC has decided to allow mobile broadband providers more room, at least for now, to discriminate in Internet traffic. If some members of Congress have their way, however, the FCC may soon be prevented from implementing its no-blocking rules. In addition to the possibility of a ban on funding the FCC's new rules, committees in both the Senate and House are considering legislation that would nullify the rules outright. For a discussion of recent congressional hearings, see the March 11th RegBlog post. Image of FCC headquarters is U.S. government work by Flickr user fccdotgov.

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