Senate keeps FCC's net neutrality rules in tact

Last week the U.S. Senate voted to keep the FCC’s existing “’net neutrality” rules, designed to ensure open Internet access delivered by cable and satellite TV operators across the country. The White House had threatened to veto the move if the Senate approved it.

"Net neutrality is not about a government takeover of the Internet, and it is not about changing anything," said Sen. Al Franken (D-MN.) "Net neutrality and the rules the FCC passed are about keeping the Internet the way it is today and the way it has always been."

Republican senators were hoping to overturn the rules, but a resolution was defeated by a vote of 52-46 in the Democratic-controlled chamber. The vote ends an ongoing attempt by Internet service providers like Verizon Communications (which has filed a lawsuit to change the rules), to allow them to choose how they deliver the Web to subscribers and others. In April, the Republican-controlled House voted 240-179 in favor of a similar resolution of disapproval.

Nearly all Republicans oppose the new rules, arguing the FCC overstepped its authority and that regulation of the Internet will stifle its growth. Democrats, including President Obama, argue that the regulations are needed to preserve an open Internet as the telecommunications industry becomes more consolidated. The President has been a strong supporter of net neutrality. He made it part of his 2008 campaign platform and appointed Julius Genachowski as FCC chairman. Genachowski pushed the rules into place.

"Over the past 20 years, the Internet has grown and flourished without burdensome regulations from Washington," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who led the push in the Senate to overturn the rules. "If we’re going to keep an open and free Internet and keep the jobs it spawns, we should reject the FCC regulation on net neutrality."

Many are worried that providers of Internet service, such as Verizon, Time Warner Cable and AT&T, might try to slow down access to online services, such as Netflix or Skype, that compete with their own offerings, or charge premiums to some sites for faster delivery of their content.

Major online companies such as Google have strongly supported net neutrality rules.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Democrat--controlled FCC voted 3-2 along party lines in December to adopt regulations that prohibit telecommunications companies from favoring their online services over those of competitors. The rules, which apply to wired and wireless services, forbid companies from blocking access by their customers to any legal content, applications or services.

The FCC also prohibited companies that provide wired Internet service from "unreasonable discrimination" in their treatment of access to content and services. The tougher requirement was placed on wired services because there are fewer providers than in the wireless industry.

The White House said it was pleased with the latest Senate vote as it provides the FCC with “an enforceable, effective but flexible policy for keep the Internet free and open.”