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House Republicans move to block net neutrality

U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has wasted no time once now that the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives opened for business: as her first official act of the 112th Congress, she has introduced a bill—The Internet Freedom Act—that would strike down the FCC’s new policy framework for net neutrality. And Blackburn isn’t acting alone: she said she has the backing of more than 60 members of Congress, including the majority of the Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its new chairman, Fred Upton (R-MI).

Blackburn’s bill follows the FCC’s framework for Internet regulation, which would prevent Internet service providers from giving preferential treatment to online sites or services, but offers a much looser framework for wireless operators, enabling mobile networks to selectively block applications, so long as it’s done with full transparency. The framework would also enable ISPs to create premium, high-performance network services separate from the public Internet, to which neutrality rules would not apply. The policy is intended to enshrine the heart of the FCC’s original Internet freedoms—which a court found the FCC did not have the power to enforce—without requiring Congress grant the FCC new authorities. The policy proposal has met mixed reactions: Internet operators are concerned the regulations would provide a disincentive to invest in broadband infrastructure and services, while neutrality advocates warn that ISPs could use wiggle room in the policies to discriminate against competitors or services—especially in the mobile arena—and that the framework might head to the creation of a two-tier Internet, with the high-performance tier essentially unregulated.

But not all in Congress believe the FCC has the authority to enforce its new policies…nor do they believe the policies are in the best interest of consumers or industry. “The FCC’s Christmas week Internet grab points out how important it is that we pass this bill quickly,” Blackburn wrote in a statement. “The only sector of our economy showing growth is online. In these times, for an unelected bureaucracy with dubious jurisdiction and missplaced[sic] motives to unilaterally regualte[sic] that growth is intolerable. The Internet is more than a communications platform with modems, fiber, and e-mail. It is a markeplace;[sic] one that should be kept free.”

Congressman Upton has promised to launch a series of oversight meetings early in the new Congress to focus on the FCC’s actions during the last two years, including its latest net neutrality order.

Blackburn introduced similar legislation in the previous congressional session. Although her Internet Freedom Act is likely to pass the Republican-controlled house, it is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate. President Obama has also endorsed the FCC net neutrality proposal, meaning that even if a bill striking down the new FCC regulations passed through Congress, it would need support from a veto-proof majority if it were to hope to become law.

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