Democrats Line Up to Defend Net-Neutrality Rules

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Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller said a Republican-led challenge to net-neutrality regulations was an extension of tea-party efforts

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A Republican-led challenge to the Federal Communications Commission's controversial Internet competition rules is little more than an extension of a tea party effort to "take government down," Senate Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said on Tuesday.

The Senate is expected to vote on a resolution blocking the so-called net-neutrality regulations as soon as Thursday, according to Senate aides.

The rules, passed by the FCC in December, govern what websites and content an Internet service provider can block.

Senate Commerce ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is sponsoring the resolution under the Congressional Review Act that would prevent the regulations from being implemented. She says her resolution has gathered 42 cosponsors.

Democratic backers of the FCC's rules are marshaling their forces to beat back the challenge. The House approved a similar resolution in April.

Rockefeller told National Journal he believes there are enough votes to defeat the mostly Republican-backed resolution. He said he addressed the issue at the Democrats' luncheon on Tuesday, and no Democrats expressed significant doubts.

"There's still 53 of us, and if we stay together we'll win," Rockefeller said. "I think we're going to prevail."

On Tuesday the White House joined the debate by threatening to veto the measure if it passes the Senate, calling the FCC rules an "effective but flexible" way to preserve a free and open Internet.

"It would be ill-advised to threaten the very foundations of innovation in the Internet economy and the democratic spirit that has made the Internet a force for social progress around the world," the White House said in a statement.

But supporters of the rules shouldn't rely on the president's veto pen, Rockefeller said. "You can take the cheap way out and just say, 'What if we fail, then Obama will veto it.' But that speaks so badly of us," he said.

Hutchison and other critics of the rules contend they are an abusive overreach by the FCC that imposes unnecessary restrictions on the traditionally free nature of cyberspace.

By imposing such standards, the FCC risks undermining innovation, delaying new products, and putting U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage, Hutchison said at a news conference on Tuesday.

"The Internet and technology have produced more jobs in this country than just about any other sector," she said. "It has been the cradle of innovation, it does not have a problem, and it does not need fixing."

GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine circulated a "dear colleague" letter on Monday, urging senators to vote for Hutchison's resolution. She said while she supports an open Internet, the FCC's rules aren't the way to do it. If any such regulations are needed, Snowe argued, they should be enacted by Congress.

The regulations are also being challenged in court by Verizon, which contends they overreach, and by public-interest groups that say the FCC didn't enact strong enough rules.

The regulations are scheduled to go into effect by the end of the month.

Image: AP.

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Josh Smith covers technology policy as a staff reporter for National Journal.

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