House tells FCC to drop ‘net neutrality’

By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / April 9, 2011

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The US House of Representatives has told the Federal Communications Commission to back off from a plan to impose “net neutrality’’ rules that would prevent service providers from deliberately slowing or blocking Internet traffic.

The Republican-controlled House voted 240 to 179 to block enforcement of an FCC net neutrality order issued in December, but the resolution faces uncertain prospects in the Senate, and President Obama has vowed to veto it.

The vote came on the eve of a possible shutdown of the federal government, as Congress has failed to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year. “Today, Republicans first want to shut down the Internet, then they want to shut down the government,’’ said US Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat and a staunch supporter of net neutrality.

Some Internet activists and businesses say that net neutrality regulations are needed to prevent Internet service providers like Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc., or Comcast Corp. from blocking or slowing down Internet traffic generated by competing firms, or sup pressing politically controversial content. But critics of net neutrality rules argue that free-market competition would prevent such abuses, and that imposing federal regulation on the Internet is a bad idea.

In December, the FCC’s Democrat-controlled board of commissioners voted 3 to 2 to impose net neutrality rules on Internet companies that use telephone or cable wires to deliver broadband service. But the board granted greater latitude to companies offering wireless broadband access. Because wireless systems have less capacity for data than wired broadband systems, the board held that companies may need to block network activities that threaten to overload their networks.

The FCC order immediately came under fire from critics who argued that the agency lacked the legal authority to regulate the Internet. Verizon filed suit in January to block the order. But the suit was thrown out earlier this week on a technicality; a federal judge held that it had been filed before the regulations had been published in the Federal Register. Verizon plans to refile the suit after the order is officially published.

The resolution passed by the House yesterday sought to block last year’s FCC order. US Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, is sponsoring legislation that would permanently block the FCC from regulating the Internet. “We look forward to forever prohibiting the overreach of the Federal Communications Commission,’’ Blackburn said.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at