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Hutchison resolution aims to eliminate FCC’s net neutrality rules before they take effect

In the fight to safeguard the openness of the Internet, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) remains a vocal opponent the Federal Communications Commission’s new rules protecting net neutrality. And as ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and author of an anti-net neutrality resolution, Hutchison is flexing her power over the commission.

As the Texas Independent previously reported, Hutchison introduced a “resolution of disapproval” (S.J Res. 6) in February to block the FCC’s recently adopted net neutrality rules, making good on a promise she made in December. After similar legislation passed the House in April, the resolution makes its way to the Senate for a vote.

If passed, the resolution could prevent the current rules from taking effect and keep the FCC from adopting similar rules with statutory authority in the future — a precedent with deep implications. The resolution depends on not only a majority vote in both chambers but also President Obama’s signature.

Joel Kelsey, political adviser at the media reform group Free Press, said the resolution could circumvent traditional Senate procedure. If Hutchison garners 30 signatures for a petition, the resolution wouldn’t need a committee review, avoiding a potential filibuster and heading straight to the Senate floor. If enough votes are cast in favor of the increasingly partisan issue, the biggest hurdle facing opponents will likely be Obama, a net neutrality supporter who appointed a personal friend, Julius Genachowski, to head the FCC.

The commission’s net neutrality guidelines prevent Internet service providers from letting some network traffic that flow through their networks faster than others, preventing ISPs from discriminating against certain content and ensuring consumers have equal access to all sites — even those of a business competitor.

While some contend the threat of discrimination is a phantom one, many instances of blocking and censoring content by ISPs have been reported.

“It is really just the idea that consumers should be able to go wherever she wants online, be able to download whatever legal content or software there is online and sign up for any service they choose, without being blocked or prevented from doing so by companies like AT&T and Comcast,” Kelsey said.

The rules were made official in late September and are expected to take effect Nov. 20. While some public interest groups argue the rules are not stringent enough, for not protecting data discrimination on mobile devices, lawmakers like Hutchison say the rules go too far and would inhibit economic development.

Hutchison argued the regulation is an “unnecessary intervention,” a detriment to job growth and innovation, and an “unprecedented power-grab,” echoing the concerns of net neutrality opponents like political counterpart, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

“I’m very disappointed that the FCC has decided to move forward with its misguided net neutrality order,” she wrote in a statement. “Companies and industries that use broadband communications have flourished over the last decade without government intervention, yet the FCC has chosen to ‘fix’ a problem that does not exist.”

Many findings run counter to that argument, though. For instance, a recent Wall Street Journal story pointed to a study that said net neutrality in Europe has been worth 155 billion euros.

“The open Internet has allowed start-ups such as Skype, Yahoo!, Spotify, YouTube, Google and Facebook to scale globally,” the study writes. A 2006 report commissioned by Free Press, the Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America found network neutrality to be the catalyst to competition and innovation on the Internet. A “tiered Internet” would, they wrote, “severely curtail consumer choice, giving consumer control over the Internet to the network owners.”

The study indicated anti-net neutrality guidelines would actually undermine innovation, investment, and competition.

“Despite the rhetoric against net neutrality, it can produce tremendous economic benefits,” Kelsey said. “It allows entrepreneurs and small businesses to scale their business models and reach millions of consumers they wouldn’t otherwise have access to — they don’t have to invest in fleet trucks and storefront to compete with Walmart. Without net neutrality rules, only one or two companies could reap those benefits as smaller businesses would likely be forced to pay a premium to big telecom like Comcast.”

“While ‘No Government Regulation’ may be a good sound bite for the incumbent industries’ PR machines, there’s not much substance there,” Kelsey said.

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