GOP Moves to Block White House Net Neutrality Plan

Sen. Jim DeMint, ES, 12.30.09 CBS

Seven Republican senators have announced a plan to curb the Obama administration's push to impose controversial Net neutrality regulations on the Internet.

On Wednesday, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and six other GOP senators introduced legislation that would sharply curb the Federal Communications Commission's ability to regulate broadband providers.

Jim DeMint
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina
CBS

"The FCC's rush to takeover the Internet is just the latest example of the need for fundamental reform to protect consumers," DeMint said in a statement. Without this legislation, DeMint said, the FCC will "impose unnecessary, antiquated regulations on the Internet."

The new bill--called the Freedom for Consumer Choice Act, or FCC Act--doesn't eliminate the FCC's power over broadband providers. But that power would become sharply limited, and come to resemble the antitrust enforcement power of the Department of Justice.

One section, for instance, lets the FCC define "unfair methods of competition" and levy "requirements" on the industry, but only if marketplace competition is inadequate.

In May, a federal appeals court unanimously ruled that the FCC's attempt to slap Net neutrality regulations on Internet providers--in a case that grew out of Comcast throttling BitTorrent transfers--was not authorized by Congress. The opinion called the FCC's claims "flatly inconsistent" with the law.

Supporters of Net neutrality say new Internet regulations or laws are necessary to prevent broadband providers from restricting content or prioritizing one type of traffic over another. Broadband providers and many conservative and free-market groups, on the other hand, say some of the proposed regulations would choke off new innovations and could even require awarding e-mail spam and telemedicine identical priorities.

A broadband industry representative, who did not want to be identified by name, said DeMint's measure turns the current debate upside-down. Currently, that person said, Net neutrality advocates can invent a "parade of horribles that could happen if the Internet was left unregulated." But under the DeMint bill, the FCC and Net neutrality advocates "would need to prove a tangible consumer benefit in order to impose new regulation."

New regulation would only be permitted if the FCC can demonstrate that "marketplace competition is not sufficient to adequately protect consumer welfare" and the lack of competition "causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers." (If the FCC decides to impose regulations without sufficient proof, look for broadband providers to file a lawsuit.)

Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge, one of the more prominent supporters of Net neutrality regulations, told CNET that: "No one wants to regulate the Internet. They start from that premise, which is mistaken." The bill takes a wrong turn, Brodsky said, by "duplicating the jurisdiction and purpose" of the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, which share antitrust authority.

In theory, many Democrats favor Net neutrality. President Obama recently reiterated through a spokesman that he remains "committed" to the idea, as have some Democratic committee chairmen.

But theory doesn't always mesh with political practice. Some rank-and-file Dems are clamoring for Net neutrality about as much as Bush-era Republicans were clamoring for limited government. Yet 74 House Democrats sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski instructing him to abandon his Net neutrality plans.

Other sponsors of the FCC Act, all Republicans, are Orrin Hatch of Utah; John Ensign of Nevada; John Thune of South Dakota; Tom Coburn of Oklahoma); John Cornyn of Texas; and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

This article originally appeared on CNET
  • Declan McCullagh On Twitter»

    Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

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