The U.S. Senate declined Thursday, in a strict party-line vote of 52 to 46, to throw out rules requiring cable, DSL and wireless providers not to unfairly interfere with internet traffic.
The rules at issue allow cable and DSL subscribers to use the websites, programs and online services of their choice, and prohibit providers such as Comcast and AT&T from blocking or degrading services they don’t like — such as online video or internet phone calls that compete with those companies’ other offerings. Mobile internet providers, such as Verizon and Sprint, are given much more leeway, but can’t block services like Skype and have to be transparent about how they manage their networks when they are congested.
Democrats defeated the measure, introduced by Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. The measure sought to undo the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which go into effect on Nov. 20.
Although the rules are largely a mirror of ones put into effect in 2005 by the Bush administration’s FCC, Republicans oppose the limitations, calling them a regulation of the internet.
The vote was largely symbolic as President Obama, who promised to bolster net neutrality rules when running for office, threatened to veto the bill if passed.
The new rules were formulated after the FCC ordered Comcast in 2008 to stop interfering with peer-to-peer file sharing. A federal appeals court tossed the order, saying that the Bush administration’s move to deregulate cable and DSL companies stripped the agency of the power to enforce fairness rules.
In response, the FCC formulated new rules, which it passed last December. But due to political pushback from Republicans and the well-connected and heavy-spending telecom lobby, the FCC did not exercise its full authority, instead choosing a politically expedient strategy of building the new rules on a legal foundation that’s very vulnerable to a court challenge.
Verizon has already sued the FCC over the new rules in a case being heard by the same court that overturned the last set of rules.
Photo: Mary Ann Solari/Flickr