Amendment would block FCC regulation of net neutrality

At least six Senate lawmakers unhappy with the White House's hardened stance on 'net neutrality' are hoping to bar further regulation of network practices.

Their effort, an amendment proposed on Monday as part of the chamber's interior appropriations bill, would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from expending "any funds from any account in fiscal year 2010... to implement any Internet neutrality or network management principles [or] to promulgate any rules relating to such principles." 

In effect, it would block the FCC from doing precisely what its chief reiterated on Monday his agency would do: preventing Internet service providers from imposing fees, limiting bandwidth or otherwise impeding Americans' access to the Web.

"I am deeply concerned by the direction the FCC appears to be heading," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tx.), the amendment's chief sponsor. "We must tread lightly when it comes to new regulations. The case has simply not been made for what amounts to a significant regulatory intervention into a vibrant marketplace. These new regulatory mandates and restrictions could stifle investment incentives."

So far, the amendment has six co-sponsors, all Republicans: Sens. Sam Brownback (Kans.), Jim DeMint (S.C.) John Ensign (Nev.), John Thune (S.D.) and David Vitter (La.).

Net neutrality returned to the political foreground this year after President Barack Obama appointed Julius Genachowski, one of the issue's leading advocates, to head the FCC. Genachowski has made clear in recent days that he plans to "enforce any violation of net neutrality principles," and he has signaled his hope that Congress codify Internet protections into law.

But Internet service providers balk at the notion of net neutrality, insisting it is merely a solution without a problem. Many are actively campaigning against the FCC's initiative -- much less defending their networking practices in court -- arguing that too much regulation could hinder Web innovation and overburden their networks.