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Republicans Waste No Time Moving Against Net Neutrality

January 10, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The Federal Communications Commission doesn’t have a great record when it comes to protecting net neutrality, but they’re still our best line of defense against a telecom industry that’s hell-bent on creating a tiered internet that restricts how people who can’t afford premium access can use the web. Republicans in the House, however, are looking to take the FCC off the beat entirely and leave all decisions concerning fairness and access on the internet up to the telecoms and Congress.

On the first day of the new session of Congress Rep. Marsha Blackburn [R, TN-7] introduced H.R.96, a bill designed to “prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from further regulating the Internet.” The full text hasn’t been made public yet, but a version of the bill she introduced last year stated, “In General – The Federal Communications Commission shall not propose, promulgate, or issue any regulations regarding the Internet or IP-enabled services.” According to a release from Blackburn’s office, the new version would set up a judicial repeal of the FCC’s 12/2010 rules (PDF) by adding new language stating that regulation of the internet is Congress’s business and no one else’s.

The problem, of course, with counting on Congress to create rules to protect internet freedom is that the corporations who stand to benefit from a tiered internet have enormous influence on the Hill in the forms of campaign money and lobbying. “More than half of the US congress will do pretty much whatever the phone and cable companies ask them to,” said FreePress President Josh Silver back when Google and Verizon came out as a tag-team against neutrality. “Add the clout of Google, and you have near-complete control of Capitol Hill.”

Undoing net neutrality protections and deregulating the internet is not a pet position of Blackburn’s, it is the mainstream position of the Republican party. Blackburn’s bill already has 62 co-sponsors, including one Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren [D, OK-2], and all but two Republican members of the Committee on Education and Commerce that it has been referred to. There is really nothing that can stop this from passing the House. Obviously, it will have a more trouble in the Senate, which is still led by Democrats, and it almost certainly would be vetoed by Obama if somehow it did clear Congress, but the growing energy around this approach shows what the future of internet regulation looks like if the Republicans gain more control of the legislative process in the future.

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