Saturday, February 19, 2011

Net Neutrality Suffers Defeat at Federal and State Levels

As it stands right now, the recent net neutrality rules passed by the FCC would only impact wired connections. This essentially means that corporations could still potentially block certain sites (or at least severely slow them down) on wireless devices. The logical conclusion is that people who don’t want large corporations being able to censure the internet would do what they can to make sure everyone has access to wired internet. As Ben Tribbett pointed out over at Not Larry Sabato, however, it appears as though Virginia’s General Assembly has passed legislation that would allow the net neutrality rules.
The bill the Virginia Senate voted on yesterday now eliminates the state requirement that every home has a wired connection- allowing Verizon and other providers to shift their customers to the unregulated internet where they can control which content you get. If you've ever worked in a place that blocks certain websites, it could work a lot like that except for your home service. Additionally they could choose to "slow down" certain services to make them less appealing to use.
As Ben highlights some of the work that corporations have been doing at the state level this week, we’ve also seen some developments regarding net neutrality at the federal level as well. Since Congress can rescind rules put forward by the FCC, Republicans have taken steps to rescind the rules regarding net neutrality. As part of these efforts to increase the power of corporations in the communications business, the GOP leadership decided to hold a hearing earlier this week on rescinding these rules in a subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

In a clear sign of contempt for government regulation of large corporations, the subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), claimed that the FCC was acting on “barely more than a whim.” In case he hadn’t mocked the FCC enough for standing up to large corporations, he then suggested that “under the FCC’s rationale, its authority is bounded only by its imagination.” The other Republicans at the hearing joined in his cause by suggesting that this was simply a government power grab that would have consequences far beyond just net neutrality. In other words, it was a prime example of how Republicans will claim almost anything that goes against the interests of large corporations is absolutely evil.

Fortunately, there were Democrats on the subcommittee who set the record straight by pointing out that communications companies have a history of making moves that aren’t in the best interests of the American people. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachussets), for instance, pointed out that “there’s a long history here of AT&T and the Baby Bells engaging in anti-competitive, anti-consumer activity.” Fortunately, while the resolution is likely to pass in the House of Representatives, Democrats who have expressed similar views to Markey in control of both the Senate and the White House and its therefore unlikely to go any further than the House.

Despite the fact that the rules aren’t likely to be rescinded by Congressional action, however, net neutrality still does face some challenges on the federal level. Rep. Walden has continued his attacks on the FCC and net neutrality by introducing an amendment to the continuing resolution that just passed in the House of Representatives. The amendment, which would prevent the FCC from spending any money on the implementation of net neutrality, passed largely along party lines on Thursday evening. With the current atmosphere on the Hill, there’s a decent possibility that the measure could survive the Senate debate. When you combine this with the victory they had in Virginia’s General Assembly this week, it’s safe to say the lobbyists for large communications companies are quite pleased with themselves right now.

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