Following a debate along party lines on Net neutrality today, the Senate will vote tomorrow on whether to repeal a Federal Communications Commission rule banning fixed-line broadband providers from blocking Web sites or unreasonably discriminating against them.
Democrats argue that Net neutrality rules are necessary to make sure that telcos treat Web sites and content providers equally, regardless of the type of data being transmitted, and to ensure that they do not give preferential treatment to those who pay more.
Republicans oppose the rules the FCC adopted by a 3-2 party line vote last December, arguing that the FCC lacked the authority to enact the rules and that they would interfere with innovation on the Internet.
The House of Representatives voted 240-to-179 in April to overturn the FCC rules. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has threatened to veto a proposal to overturn the regulations. The FCC regulation is scheduled to take effect on November 20.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) said the FCC rules would hinder online investment and progress. "It will increase cost and cause delays, if not freezing, many of the innovations that have occurred in our open Internet system," she said.
"This is another big government solution in search of a problem," said Sen. Jim deMint (S.C.). "There's been no demonstrable harm...competition and broadband expansion are growing."
But Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) pointed out that there has already been a case in which a provider throttled traffic it deemed excessive. After initially denying it, Comcast eventually admitted to blocking traffic on BitTorrent in 2007, prompting consumer rights groups to complain that it is unreasonable to degrade peer-to-peer traffic.
"That's what's happening, these providers who think if I can control the pipe now I can also control the flow," Cantwell said. "Why allow telcos to run wild on the Internet charging consumers anything they want based on the fact that they have control of the switch?"
In her view, the FCC rules don't go far enough to prevent such "unreasonable" telco action because the regulations apply only to fixed-line and not the fast growing mobile broadband sector.
Allowing telcos to treat different Web sites and content differently could lead to anti-competitive behavior, argued Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.).
"In a world without a free and open Internet, there would be nothing to stop broadband providers from blocking access to Web sites that offer products that compete with those of its affiliates," he said. "In a world without a free and open Internet, companies could pay Internet providers to guarantee that their Web sites open more quickly than competitors."