The U.S. House of Representatives voted this afternoon to overturn controversial Net neutrality regulations, a move that will invite a confrontation with President Obama if the Senate follows suit.
By a 240 to 179 vote that, as expected, fell largely along party lines, the House approved a one-page resolution that says, simply, the regulations adopted by the Federal Communications Commission last December "shall have no force or effect."
All but two Republicans backed the measure, while only six Democrats did.
"Congress has not authorized the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet," said Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, during the floor discussion. The agency's move amounts to a worrisome "power grab" that must be blocked, he said.
Not much has changed--except, perhaps, that the debate has become even more partisan--since the last Net neutrality vote nearly five years ago. In June 2006, a Democratic-controlled House also rejected the concept of empowering the FCC to regulate broadband providers, that time by a 269 to 152 vote.
Today's final approval followed a vote earlier this week on procedures for debate, which was approved by a nearly identical vote of 241 to 178.
Rhetoric ran to the extreme during this afternoon's discussion, with politicians from both major parties accusing the other of wanting to stifle innovation and turn the United States' Internet into something more closely resembling Iran's.
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"Phone and cable companies are gatekeepers to the information highway," said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. "Without regulation they could choke off innovation." Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi suggested via Twitter that Republicans were wasting their time on this "instead of working" to avoid a government shutdown.
Earlier this week, the White House issued a rare formal veto threat. "If the president is presented with a resolution of disapproval that would not safeguard the free and open Internet, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the resolution," a statement said. (Obama has not vetoed any legislation since the Republicans gained control of the House.)
A resolution of disapproval is a formal process, outlined in the Congressional Review Act, that permits Congress to overturn decisions of federal agencies. It requires both the House and the Senate to vote, and is subject to a presidential veto, but is not subject to a filibuster and only requires 51 votes to clear the Senate.
This is one of those technology topics that has become starkly partisan: During the 2008 campaign, Obama told CNET that "I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to Network neutrality." In February, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that "our new majority in the House is committed to using every tool at our disposal to fight a government takeover of the Internet."
On December 23, the FCC released the text of its 194-page document (PDF) with the regulations and accompanying explanations of how broadband providers' business practices will be affected. It had approved them on a 3-2 party line vote two days earlier.
Last April, a federal appeals court unceremoniously slapped down the agency's earlier attempt to impose Net neutrality penalties on Comcast after the company temporarily throttled some BitTorrent transfers.
A second legal challenge to the FCC's regulation has already been filed. Earlier this week, a federal appeals court said it was too early for Verizon and MetroPCS to sue the FCC to overturn the regulations. The ruling wasn't much of a setback: the lawsuit can be refiled after the agency has formally published the final text of the regulations, which it has not yet done.
The Senate has not yet voted on the resolution of disapproval. A parallel version of the legislation in that chamber has 40 sponsors, close to the majority of supporters required.