Waxman Says He Lacks Backing for Net-Neutrality Bill

U.S. House Democrats failed to win Republican support needed for legislation giving regulators temporary authority over how companies led by Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. provide Web service, Representative Henry Waxman said.

A measure that would let the U.S. Federal Communications Commission enforce net-neutrality rules for two years won’t be introduced immediately, Waxman, a California Democrat and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said today in an e-mailed statement.

“This development is a loss for consumers and a gain only for the extremes,” Waxman said. “We need to break the deadlock on net neutrality.”

The bill aimed to ensure the FCC has the power that was called into question when a U.S. court in April ruled it lacked authority over Internet-service providers.

At issue is whether the FCC may write rules to guarantee net neutrality, or that Internet-service providers can’t impede subscribers’ access to certain content while favoring their own.

President Barack Obama made it a campaign issue and calls himself a “big believer” in the concept. Cable and phone companies that provide Internet service say rules may interfere with their ability to manage their networks and limit investment in new Internet capacity.

Republican Opposition

Republican leaders decided “there is not sufficient time to ensure that Chairman Waxman’s proposal will keep the Internet open without chilling innovation,” Representative Joe Barton of Texas, the top Republican on the committee, said in an e-mailed statement. Congress is to adjourn within days to campaign for the Nov. 2 elections.

“It is not appropriate to give the FCC authority to regulate the Internet,” Barton said

The bill may be introduced after the elections, Waxman said.

The measure would restore the FCC’s authority to prevent the blocking of Internet content, bar phone and cable companies from unjustly or unreasonably discriminating against any lawful Internet traffic, and apply strictures to wireless providers, Waxman said.

“Under our proposal, the FCC could begin enforcing these open Internet rules immediately, with maximum fines increased from $75,000 to $2,000,000 for violations,” Waxman said.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in September 2009 proposed rules aimed at ensuring net neutrality. He hasn’t sought a vote while the commission considers its reaction to the April court ruling.

Phone Rules

Today’s development prompted renewed calls for Genachowski to proceed with his idea to claim power over Internet service using rules written for monopoly telephone service in the 20th century. Companies such as AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. oppose such action and say it may prompt more regulation, including price controls. Lawmakers and advocacy groups have urged Genachowski to proceed, saying customers need protection.

Waxman’s bill would bar the FCC from using the phone rules during its two-year duration.

“If our efforts to find bipartisan consensus fail, the FCC should move forward,” Waxman said.

Jen Howard, an FCC spokeswoman, declined to comment.