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Obama Is Threatening to Veto the GOP's Latest Assault on Net Neutrality

Federal open internet protections are under attack.

by Sam Gustin
Apr 13 2016, 2:55pm

Photo: White House/Flickr

President Obama has long been a vocal supporter of net neutrality, the idea that all content on the internet should be equally accessible—and now he's backing up his principles with policy.

In a "Statement of Administration Policy" released Tuesday, Obama signaled that he intends to veto Republican-backed legislation that open internet advocates say could eviscerate federal net neutrality protections.

Earlier this year, a GOP-controlled House subcommittee approved the "No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act," (H.R. 2666) which net neutrality supporters say could severely undercut the Federal Communications Commission's ability to police the nation's largest cable and phone companies.

The House bill would "would undermine key provisions in the Federal Communications Commission's open internet order and harm the commission's ability to protect consumers while facilitating innovation and economic growth," said the Obama administration's statement. "If the President were presented with H.R. 2666, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill."

The bill would "especially harm the families and small businesses that rely on an affordable and open internet"

On its face, the House bill would merely limit the FCC's ability to "regulate the rates charged for broadband internet access service." But the FCC has already pledged to refrain from—or forebear—using its rate regulation authority.

In reality, the bill could effectively cripple the FCC's power to protect net neutrality, according to open internet advocates, because cable and phone companies could claim that FCC rules against blocking and throttling—concepts at the core of federal net neutrality protections—amount to rate regulation.

In addition, the bill could threaten the FCC's authority over "all sorts of tactics the ISPs use to strong-arm competitors and price-gouge consumers: data caps, zero-rating, interconnection disputes, below-the-line and hidden fees, price hiking, and many other kinds of business practices," according to Kate Forscey, associate counsel for government affairs at DC-based advocacy group Public Knowledge.

In late 2014, as the FCC was in the throes of developing what would become its landmark open internet policy, Obama delivered a strong boost to the agency when he publicly backed robust net neutrality protections. Obama's support infuriated GOP net neutrality opponents who accused the president of meddling with an independent agency, but FCC officials dismissed those complaints.

The nation's largest cable and phone companies, along with their GOP allies in Congress, detest the FCC's net neutrality policy, which they say amounts to a "big government" overreach that has subjected them to onerous new regulations and reduced their appetite for infrastructure investment. House Republicans have repeatedly tried to kill the FCC's net neutrality rules, and the broadband industry is currently challenging the agency's policy in federal court.

The House bill at issue was introduced by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds from Comcast, AT&T and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Seperately on Tuesday, a coalition of dozens of public interest groups sent a strongly worded letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican, and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat, urging Congress to vote against H.R. 2666.

"This bill is clearly another attempt to undermine the FCC's ability to protect consumers in the digital era," Chris Lewis, vice president for government affairs at Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "The legislation would threaten not only net neutrality, but also gut the agency's basic ability to examine monopoly rates and broker merger conditions that benefit the public."

Kinzinger's bill would "especially harm the families and small businesses that rely on an affordable and open internet to find jobs, do schoolwork, or reach consumers to compete in the 21st century global marketplace," according to the letter. "It is time for members of Congress to stop sneak attacks that would allow big cable companies to break net neutrality rules without consequences."

During his first presidential campaign, Obama promised that he would "take a back seat to no one" in his defense of net neutrality. The president's vow to veto the latest GOP assault on net neutrality, along with his full-throated support of strong open internet protections, shows that he is serious about upholding that pledge.