House Votes to Block FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules

Spending bill amendment would prevent the commission from using federal funds to enforce rules

Last Updated: February 17, 2011 @ 10:39 PM

House Republicans approved a spending-bill amendment Thursday that would block the Federal Communications Commission from enacting its sweeping net neutrality regulations. 

Passed last December, the FCC's new rules are aimed at preventing internet providers from charging premium rates for service or blocking video content. 

Introduced by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the amendment to the annual government spending bill,  prevents the FCC from using federal funding to enforce its regulations. Approved 244-181, it still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the president to become law.

Meanwhile in the Senate, Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and John Ensign (R-Nev.) have introduced a similar rider aimed at stripping the FCC's enforcement powers. That bill could face a steeper climb, as the Senate is still in Democratic control. 

An FCC spokesperson declined to comment, but interest groups that have been pushing for the new rules slammed the vote. 

“The message from the new House leadership is clear: Unchecked corporate power and rampant discrimination are their priorities," Craig Aaron, managing director of Free Press Action Fund, said in a statement. "The anti-Net Neutrality measure would leave Internet users without any recourse if their phone or cable company decided to block their access to Web sites or applications for any reason."

Republicans in congress have long argued that the commission lacks the authority to regulate the internet. 

Particularly damaging to the FCC's rule-making abilities is a U.S. Court of Appeals decision last summer that said the commission — which can regulate broadcast TV and telephone landlines — does not hold sway over the internet. In that case, the appeals court ruled that the FCC could not sanction Comcast for limiting its customers’ ability to download big BitTorrent video files.

The FCC's net neutrality rules prevent cable providers from limiting broadband access to rival content, online video or other forms of internet traffic. Under the guidelines, the FCC will impose fines and bring injunctions against offenders.  

Outside of Congress, the FCC's guidelines are under attack by Verizon and MetroPCS, which have filed suit in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that the commission does not have the legal backing to govern the internet.