Late Wednesday, Republican members of a key House Commerce subcommittee decided to give phone and cable companies absolute, unrestricted power over the Internet.
By a party-line vote of 15 to 8 they passed a "resolution of disapproval" that would strip the FCC of its ability to protect Internet users -- freeing up companies like Verizon and Comcast to block our right to speak freely and share information on the Internet.
This reckless action opens the door even wider to corporate abuse of Net Neutrality, the principle that protects our ability to connect with everyone else online.
Already, cable giants like Comcast are maneuvering to restrict access to competitive video services like Netflix; wireless carrier MetroPCS has unveiled a plan to block users' access to most video and audio sites.
The majority rammed this vote through without weighing widespread concerns -- coming from public interest and consumer advocates, and the tech industry -- that this resolution is an extreme overreach that gives away our basic Internet freedoms.
Damn the Facts
The House is already set to pass this resolution; it moves next to full committee and the floor. Hopefully, the Senate can muster enough common sense to kill the resolution when it crosses Capitol Hill.
House Republicans, on the other hand, seem determined to give phone and cable companies a degree of power over our Internet that is unprecedented in the history of U.S. telecommunications policy.
"Unfortunately, the debate around [Net Neutrality] has become immune to the calming powers of historical fact," said Free Press research director (and colleague) Derek Turner in testimony before the subcommittee.
The line of questioning from members of the subcommittee bore this out. At one point Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-AT&T) claimed that "there was no federal governance of the Internet" before the FCC moved an open Internet order last December.
I'd like to see Rep. Blackburn prove that right-wing whopper. Unfortunately, her time for questions ran out. Had subcommittee witnesses more time to respond, one of them might have told Blackburn that the Nixon administration put in place strong nondiscriminatory rules to ensure that abuses of market power would not stifle the growth of an infant network computing industry.
This successful framework was later improved upon by both the Carter and Reagan administrations. And with the Telecom Act of 1996, a bipartisan Congress recognized that in order to foster new industries, we needed the FCC to act to ensure everyone had open access to the information superhighway.
These facts are merely unfortunate road bumps for a House majority determined to ignore history.
Will the Senate Step Up?
It's now left to the Senate to stop this resolution. If they fail, the FCC could be barred from preventing these companies from blocking any website, banning any speech, and charging you anything they can get away with.
American Internet users need to choose between the open Internet that lets us view any content, anywhere, and the walled garden that the big phone and cable companies want to build around us.
If you choose openness, you had better do what you can to get your senators to reject this resolution.