WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives voted on Friday to overturn “net neutrality” rules aimed at ensuring an open Internet, setting the stage for a clash with the Senate and President Barack Obama.
The House voted 240-179 in favor of a Republican-backed resolution that seeks to block the rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The five-member, Democratic-controlled FCC, in a vote split on party lines, agreed in December to the rules aimed at safeguarding “network neutrality” - the principle that lawful Web traffic should be treated equally.
Supporters have argued that the rules are needed to ensure an open Internet but opponents have decried them as unnecessary government intervention.
The Senate, where Democrats are in the majority, is unlikely to pass a measure similar to that approved by the House and the White House has threatened a veto if the resolution reaches President Obama's desk.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, welcomed the House's approval of the resolution calling it “an important step to bring down the FCC's harmful and partisan plan to regulate the Internet.”
“These regulations give the government unwarranted authority to control broadband networks which ultimately will hinder a thriving industry, harm competition and stifle innovation,” Cantor said.
“Under Republican leadership, the House is focusing on ending anti-growth government regulations,” he said.
Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi of California said the Republican-backed resolution “takes us in the wrong direction - revoking basic consumer protections, eliminating competition, and shutting off outlets of innovation.”
Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia, expressed disappointment with the House move saying “Americans want the Internet to remain free and open and the FCC's net neutrality rules provided just that.”
The rules are a balancing act by the FCC between support for consumers and the cable and telephone companies that are the main Internet service providers in the United States.
The rules would prevent fixed broadband providers from blocking lawful content, applications or services, providing their own video content at a faster speed, for example, than that of a rival.
Wireless providers may not block access to lawful websites or applications that compete directly with their own voice or video telephony services but they could potentially block other applications or services.
Fixed broadband providers can also charge consumers according to usage, a metered pricing practice already used by some wireless carriers.
US telecom carrier Verizon Communications filed a legal challenge to the FCC's rules in January but a federal appeals court threw it out this week on the grounds that it was “premature” because the FCC has not yet published the rules in the Federal Register.