Hutchison: Senate may vote on net neutrality next week

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said Tuesday that a Senate vote to overturn the FCC’s net neutrality rules might come as early as next week. The vote would happen just days ahead of November 20, when the rules are scheduled to take effect.

Hutchison said the necessary number of senators’ signatures have been obtained for the petition — the Resolution of Disapproval — to consider the FCC’s net neutrality regulations under the Congressional Review Act. The CRA, which gives Congress the authority to review every new regulation issued by federal agencies, would allow opponents of the FCC’s rules to force a vote and overrule the regulation.

“We are hoping that next week we will be able to get the Resolution of Disapproval on the floor,” said Hutchison. “We have over 40 signatures to have the expedited Congressional authority to take this resolution up, and the House has already passed it. It now rests in the Senate.”

Supporters of net neutrality argue that Internet service providers should not be allowed to favor some content over others; opponents argue that the FCC is trying to fix a non-problem. “The Internet is not broken and does not need fixing,” Hutchison told the audience at The Heritage Foundation’s blogger’s briefing. Hutchison said that there should have at least been a congressional debate about the matter.

“There are some of my colleagues who actually think that we should regulate the Internet,” said Hutchison. “I disagree with them, but we should have at least had a debate about it.”

Scott Cleland, Chairman of NetCompetition, offered similar sentiments to TheDC, stating that “the FCC’s net neutrality order is the quintessential example of unnecessary and unwarranted Federal regulations that stifle growth, investment and job creation.”

“Simply, there is no problem here to solve, the FCC did no objective market or cost benefit analysis to justify their intervention, and worst of all, the FCC has no statutory authority to do what it did,” said Cleland.

The senator was also not afraid to voice her disapproval of the FCC’s actions. “They’re not elected, they don’t have legislative authority, and they are acting as if they are the Congress and not acting under the authority of Congress,” said Hutchison.

The rules were passed on December 21, 2010, marking what GOP FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell — one of the two dissenting votes on the agency’s decision —  called ‘the beginning of a long winter’s night for Internet freedom’ in a Wall Street Journal op-ed days before the vote. Three Democratic commissioners voted in favor of the rules, two GOP commissioners dissented.

Progressive media reform non-profit Free Press — which also recently filed a suit in court challenging the FCC’s net neutrality rules on the grounds that they do not go far enough — holds the view that net neutrality means no discrimination.

“With Net Neutrality, the network’s only job is to move data –– not to pick and choose which data to privilege with better service,” the organization said on its website.

There is also pressure from international groups to refocus the net neutrality debate from the technological considerations to a human rights discussion, specifically freedom of speech and expression. Frank La Rue, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, has made statements throughout the year declaring Internet access a basic human right, and arguing that governments need to guard against censorship and discrimination of Internet content.

President of Less Government Seton Motley, on the other hand, recently told TheDC that the U.S. has the strongest free speech protections in the world, and that the First Amendment is meant to protect free speech from government.

Free market proponents expressed to TheDC their satisfaction of the possibility that the vote would be moving forward. Mike Wendy, Director of Media Freedom, told TheDC that he thought Hutchison’s work on net neutrality was an “important exercise of congressional prerogative and power.”

“Congress makes the law,” said Wendy. “It has said, ‘FCC, you do not have the power to regulate the Internet,’ yet the FCC has gone ahead anyway, in blatant disregard of Congress’ will. If Congress can’t wrap its head around this concept and pass the Resolution, our constitutional form of government has some tough sledding ahead.”

Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity, told TheDC that the vote “will be the best, clearest opportunity the Senate has had to stand up to this administration’s job-crushing abuse of regulatory powers to advance its failed legislative agenda.”

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