Republicans Propose to Loosen Government Oversight of Internet

Republicans on the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee on Wednesday voted to maintain a hands-off approach to net neutrality provisions in the Communications, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., introduced the bill last week. Its main goal makes way for a national video franchising process, but that line item has been overshadowed by vague language on net neutrality, which yesterday was changed to give the FCC authority to handle violations complaints within 90 days, and the ability to impose fines of up to $500,000 per violation.

Republicans said they wanted to keep government out of net neutrality rules as much as possible.

Advocates of an open Internet were upset by the action. An amendment proposed by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., would have protected consumers and competition by not allowing the Bells and cable companies to act as gatekeepers to the Internet, said COMPTEL President and CEO Earl Comstock. COMPTEL is disappointed that members of the subcommittee chose not to adopt meaningful safeguards that would have ensured that the Internet will remain an innovative, driving force in our nations economy.

Companies including eBay Inc., Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. supported the Markey amendment as well.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), which represents the LECs, on the other hand praised the 27-4 vote loosening government oversight of the Internet.

“TIA fully supports the purpose of the measure, which is to increase competition and thereby lower prices for consumers,” said TIA President Matthew J. Flanigan. “As the information and communications technology industry continues to rapidly evolve, TIA especially supports the goal of establishing a firm regulatory foundation that is forward-looking in encouraging competition, investment, innovation and the deployment of next-generation technologies across all segments of the industry.”

The Communications, Promotion, and Enhancement Act of 2006 likely will not face further action until after the Congressional Easter recess.

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