GOP Effort to Repeal Net Neutrality Rules Fails in Senate; Fight Will Continue in Courts

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By Paul Barbagallo  

Senate Republicans failed Nov. 10 to secure the votes necessary to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, a defeat that puts the matter squarely in the hands of the courts.

The Senate voted 52-46 along party lines to reject a GOP-sponsored resolution (S.J. Res. 6) that would have repealed the FCC's rules in their entirety. The rules are now set to take effect Nov. 20. The largely symbolic vote came seven months after the House approved an identical resolution to nullify the rules, and nearly a year after the FCC voted to adopt the rules.

“Today, the Senate refused to hand over the internet to a small group of corporate interests, and we need to keep up the fight because we know this isn't the last we've heard of the assault on net neutrality,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, said in a statement.

The Senate vote was hailed as a major victory for net neutrality advocates, though the fight over network neutrality will continue in the courts. Verizon Communications Inc. has appealed the rules to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

In an e-mailed statement, an FCC spokesman said the vote will benefit both consumers and businesses.

“Since its adoption in 2010, the commission's open internet framework has brought certainty and predictability, stimulating increased innovation and investment across the broadband economy, including in mobile networks and apps,” he said. “Tens of billions of dollars have already been invested in 2011 in wired and wireless broadband networks, a significant increase from the previous year before the order was adopted.”

Any effort by lawmakers to “disrupt or unsettle” that certainty, the spokesman added, will only undermine that innovation and investment.

“Despite the cloak of anti-government rhetoric of the legislation's opponents, the reality is that a defeat of the resolution would have given control over to Big Telecom companies for their benefit on an Internet manipulated for their benefit,” Gigi Sohn, president of the public-interest group Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

Leading up to the vote, Republican lawmakers described the FCC's rules as a “power grab”—an overreach of statutory authority that would stifle investment and job creation.

They also contended that the FCC can point to only a few instances of blocking or degrading of web traffic—practices that the rules are designed to prevent: Madison River Telephone Co.'s blocking of voice-over-internet-protocol services, Verizon Wireless's blocking of political text messages, Telus Corp.'s blocking of a website operated by its opponent in a labor dispute, and Comcast Corp.'s throttling of BitTorrent traffic.