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House E&C Unanimously Approves Global Internet Freedom Bill

The House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday
unanimously approved a bill establishing a multistakeholder model of global
Internet governance as the official policy of the U.S.

That came after a phrase was dropped from the bill that had
stood in the way of Democrat support.

In opening statements on the mark-up Wednesday on H.R. 1580,
the bill "to affirm the policy of the United States regarding Internet
governance," Rep. Henry Waxman ((D-Calif.), ranking member of the
committee, said that there remained some issues he hoped would be worked
through in the process, but that the deletion of the "freedom from
government control language" from Sec. 2, which is the actual legal
statement of U.S. policy, was a major step, and he urged his colleagues to vote
the bill out of full committee. It did.

Waxman had said last week when the Republican-backed bill
was voted out of subcommittee that he could not support it, but did not object
to that voice vote after he and ranking subcommittee member Anna Eshoo
(D-Calif.) secured assurances that their concerns would be discussed in
meetings before the full-committee mark-up. Waxman had been concerned that the
language could provide a back-door route to excising network neutrality rules.

The bill now says: "It is the policy of the United
States to preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that
governs the Internet."

Committee chairman Fred Upton, who did not have the same
problem with that language, said in his opening statement that he had worked
hard to address Waxman's and others' concerns and cited the "minor
language changes" that he said still achieved "their shared
objective," which is preserving that multistakeholder model. He also said
the bill was still essentially the same as the bipartisan resolution both House
and Senate approved unanimously.

That resolution, which did not have the force of law, passed
in both House and Senate in the run-up to the WCIT telecom treaty conference in
Dubai, which the U.S. ultimately declined to sign after language was inserted
relating to the Internet that the U.S. saw as opening the door to possible
top-down Internet governance pushed by countries including China, Russia and
some Arab states.

Waxman and other Democrats had been concerned that making
"freedom from government control" part of the policy definition could
jeopardize both the FCC's ability to enforce its network neutrality rules and
oversee the transition to IP delivery of video, voice and data.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) chair of the Communications
subcommittee, said both last week and at Wednesday's hearing that he did not
think the language created any statutorily mandated responsibilities and would
have affected network neutrality rules or any others. But he said in a spirit
of bipartisanship, the language had been dropped. But he added that he still
opposed Internet neutrality rules, which he said regulated the Internet

"We appreciate the committee's effort to clarify that
this legislation is directed at international concerns such as current attempts
by Internet restricting countries to impose inter-governmental control over the
content on the Internet," said the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
"The legislation as now evolved should minimize any misuse of this policy
statement here at home."