Rep. Walden Amendment Would Defund Net Neutrality

February 17, 2011 5:09 pm ET — Kate Conway

Rep. Greg Walden

Today, the House of Representatives took up one of the hundreds of Republican amendments to the budget resolution. Offered by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Amendment 404 would deny funding to the Federal Communications Commission for implementing net neutrality rules:

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said Tuesday he added an amendment to the continuing resolution that would essentially block the FCC's attempts to administer its Internet access rules. 

Meant to preserve consumers' open access to the internet, the FCC's late December adoption of net neutrality rules led to a fair amount of teeth gnashing by conservatives. At the time, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) perversely denounced the FCC's decision by ranting that "consumers should be free to access the internet and run the applications and programs they want to run without unwarranted government interference."

Of course, allowing consumers to freely "access the internet and run the applications and programs they want" is precisely what the rules would do — and that's about all they would do. The version of net neutrality adopted was so watered down that many of its primary critics were actually proponents of open internet rules.

For starters, some of the rules don't even apply to wireless services — just to broadband. And they don't fulfill one of the most prominent goals of net neutrality: the prohibition of "paid prioritization," which could let larger companies pay to have their sites work faster than those of smaller companies.

The new rules are, at best, net semi-neutrality. They ban any outright blocking and any ''unreasonable discrimination'' of Web sites or applications by fixed-line broadband providers, but they afford more wiggle room to wireless providers like AT&T and Verizon.

They require all providers to disclose what steps they take to manage their networks. In a philosophical break with open Internet advocates, the rules do not explicitly forbid ''paid prioritization,'' which would allow a company to pay for faster transmission of data.

Yet despite the relatively toothless rules, the GOP is bent on killing any part of the Democratic agenda it can get its legislative hands on — if not directly, then through a denial of funding. And sadly, after debate, the House approved the amendment by voice vote.

It's not official yet, because Rep. Walden has "demanded a recorded vote," but unless conservatives develop a sudden sense of shame about selling off the rights of their constituents to the highest bidder, the FCC may never get a chance to ensure free and open access to the internet.