Republicans Fail to Kill Net Neutrality in Budget Bill

Anti-open internet riders have disappeared from federal budget.

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Dec 16 2015, 4:05pm

Photo: Tony Brooks/Flickr

Republican efforts to sabotage the new FCC open internet policy by attaching poison-pill riders onto the $1.1 trillion "omnibus" budget bill appear to have failed, according to a summary of the bill from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Republican lawmakers have been planning for months to undermine the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality policy by inserting anti-open internet language in the must-pass federal budget. The FCC's critics claim that net neutrality will harm innovation and throttle private broadband investment. (Open internet advocates say there hasn't been any evidence of that.)

After months of lobbying, Congress finally released its new budget proposal early Wednesday morning. The anti-net neutrality language does not appear in the 2009-page bill. A final vote is expected Friday, followed by President Obama's signature.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who is vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, issued a summary of the omnibus bill stating that the agreement does not include "harmful" provisions "that would have prevented the FCC from implementing its Open Internet Order to protect consumer rights to net neutrality."

"This is a huge win," Harold Feld, senior VP of DC-based advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Motherboard. "But the fight is not yet over until this is passed and signed."

The GOP plan to scuttle net neutrality—the general principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally—is part of a broader offensive being waged by the nation's largest cable and phone companies, and their political allies, against what they see as overly burdensome government regulation.

One of the proposed GOP riders would have prohibited the FCC from using federal money to "regulate, directly or indirectly, the prices, other fees, or data caps and allowances...in the matter of protecting and promoting the open Internet, adopted by the Federal Communications Commission on February 26, 2015."

Open internet advocates, including President Obama, say that without net neutrality, the next Netflix or Skype could be snuffed out because broadband providers like Comcast or Verizon could block or degrade the upstarts' traffic on their networks.

Silicon Valley titans such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Netflix have been vigorously lobbying against the anti-open internet riders. Last week, an industry group representing the companies urged Congress to "refrain from including riders relating to net neutrality and the Federal Communication Commission's Open Internet Order in the upcoming omnibus spending legislation."

The GOP plan to include anti-net neutrality riders in the US budget bill took place as the broadband industry is challenging the FCC policy before a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Earlier this month, the FCC and its industry antagonists faced off in federal court over the legality of the agency's policy. A ruling is expected early next year.

It appears the pro-open internet forces have prevailed. For now.