House Subcommittee Moves to Halt Net Neutrality Regulation

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives took the first step to invalidate the Federal Communications Commission’s recently passed “Net Neutrality” Internet regulations. With a 15-8 vote, the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology moved forward a joint resolution of disapproval relying on the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to nullify the rules passed by the FCC in late December.

A brief, but critical law, the CRA was intended for this exact purpose: to provide a check-and-balance against government agencies that enact highly contentious regulations with no underlying legislative authority.

The FCC’s order relied largely on Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which was intended to “encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced telecommunications capability” through “regulatory forbearance” and measures to “remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” While Section 706 was meant to deregulate to expand broadband, the FCC’s order would regulate in a way that would hamper broadband expansion, if it had an impact at all. Oddly enough, in the final blow to the FCC’s prior Net Neutrality rule, the Court of Appeals for D.C. ruled, “the Commission remains bound by its earlier conclusion that section 706 grants no regulatory authority.”  In other words, the FCC has no legal authority to enact Net Neutrality.

The House’s measure (H.J. Res. 37), sponsored by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) has 50 co-sponsors and is sure to advance through the Commerce Committee to the House floor.  It’s Senate companion (S.J. Res. 6), sponsored by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), has 39 additional co-sponsors. Should both measures pass Congress, it will be a tough sell to President Obama, who praised the FCC for passing regulations it had no authority to enact.