Republicans Take Aim At FCC Net Neutrality Rules

Dennis Faas's picture

Republican Congress members have taken the first step in blocking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from enforcing net neutrality rules. But the political landscape means the final outcome is far from clear.

The move follows a hearing by the House of Representatives committee that questioned all five FCC members about their decision in December to issue controversial guidelines attempting to enforce net neutrality (the principle that all lawful Internet traffic should be treated equally). (Source:

With Republican politicians unimpressed by the evidence given by the commissioners, forty senators have now joined together to file a Congressional Review Act. That's a piece of legislation that overturns the actions of a Federal government agency.

Passage of Republicans' Act Unlikely

It seems highly unlikely such an act would be passed: not only would it need to pass both houses (which would be unlikely with the Democrats currently maintaining a slender lead in the Senate), but it would have to be signed by President Barack Obama, who has previously spoken in favor of net neutrality. (Source:

There are also reports that FCC critics may seek to limit or block the commission's funding as part of the ongoing federal budget review process; again, congressional arithmetic makes that unlikely to succeed. In both cases, the moves seem designed to draw attention to the issue and put the commission under further scrutiny.

Net Neutrality: Multi-Faceted Argument

The debate is particularly complex as it involves both the specific political issues of net neutrality and a wider argument about the powers of politicians and agency chiefs.

On net neutrality itself, FCC supporters argue that enforcing net neutrality provides a level playing field; critics argue that it constitutes unnecessary interference in the marketplace.

The wider argument is about whether the FCC has the authority to make such rules in the first place. That's because of the current legal classification of broadband provision as an information service, which FCC opponents say doesn't come under the commission's authority.

In response, the FCC has floated the idea of reclassifying broadband as a communications service, which certainly comes under its remit -- but opponents have also questioned whether the FCC is legally allowed to carry out such a reclassification.

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