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Republicans Move To Block Net Neutrality Rules

Thursday House Republicans moved to block the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from enforcing its new "net neutrality" regulations by attaching an amendment to a "sweeping spending bill." This could prevent the FCC from using government money to enforce the new rules that prohibit broadband providers from favoring or discriminating against Internet content and services.

According to the new rules established in December 2010, broadband providers must allow subscribers to access all forms of legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks. However the providers have the right to manage data in order to regulate traffic congestion and unwanted traffic (spam etc) as long as the practice is publicly disclosed. Broadband providers are also prohibited from unreasonable network discrimination including "paid prioritization."

On the wireless front, the FCC's net neutrality rules prevent wireless carriers from blocking access to websites or competing services like Skype and Google Voice. Like their wired broadband counterparts, carriers are also forced to disclose data traffic management practices. But unlike wired broadband, wireless carriers have a greater flexibility in managing data traffic because the smaller network bandwidth can get overwhelmed more easily than wired broadband systems.

Thursday Republicans argued that the FCC overstepped its authority in adopting the net neutrality rules, and passed the amendment with a 244 to 181 vote. According to the party, the regulations are "onerous and unnecessary," making it difficult for broadband providers to earn a healthy return on their investments, thus discouraging any attempt to upgrade their networks. The rules stifle innovation, say Republicans.

Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, sponsored the spending bill amendment. He said the move was about keeping the government out of the business of running the Internet.

“We all want an open and thriving Internet," Walden said in an official statement. "That Internet exists today. Consumers can access anything they want with the click of a mouse thanks to our historical hands-off approach. I am pleased that my colleagues in the House accepted my amendment to ensure the FCC does not have the funds to implement the controversial Internet regulations.”

Carl Howe of the Yankee Group said that ultimately what's at stake in regards to the net neutrality rules is the right to produce and consume content (videos, web pages, etc) versus the rights of Internet service providers to make money. "Those that own the networks get to set the rules," he told Marketwatch. "In many ways the network owners become the owners of the tollbooth, if net neutrality is not required, and as such they can charge whatever tolls they want."

The Associated Press reports that Republican efforts to repeal the net neutrality rules will likely face an uphill battle in a Senate currently controlled by Democrats. However, the regulation may be harder to defend in court. Both Verizon and Metro PCS are challenging the FCC's regulations in federal appeals court in the District of Columbia.