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Kerry to Colleagues: Don't Nullify Net Neutrality

According to a copy of the letter, Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) Friday asked his colleagues to vote against the Congressional Review Act resolution to nullify the FCC's network neutrality rules, which looks like it could get a vote on the Senate floor next week.

It has already passed the Republican-controlled House, but has an uphill slog in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

In the letter, Kerry says that not only would nullifying the rule signal Congress was prepared to deny independent regulators the ability to execute the law, "but it would discourage investment in the next Google or Amazon and put at risk health and safety rules, environmental protections, worker rights" and "every other public protection that our agencies enforce that some in Congress do not like." Obviously that last part was a reference to the precedent it could set for Congress overturning regulations.

The nullification route is an unusual legislative gambit -- last used in the media space by then Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan to try and block media ownership rule changes -- but Congress does have the power to overturn the decisions of independent regulatory agencies via that route.

The FCC's rules expanding and codifying its internet openness principles are scheduled to go into effect Nov. 21, but have also been challenged in court by phone company Verizon and public interest groups -- the latter because the rules were not extended to wireless broadband, but not cable operators -- the National Cable & Telecommunications Association was involved in the negotiations that produced the compromise regs approved last December, though industry players were essentially choosing the lesser of two evils, the greater being the reclassification of Internet access as a telecom service subject to some common carrier regs.

Kerry said that for those who argue the FCC exceeded its authority in adopting the regs, "a court will make that decision," then proceeded to make the case himself, concluding that the FCC "not only has the authority to protect the Open Internet, but the responsibility to do so." Kerry said if the regs were blocked, "every innovator on the Internet will be exposed to the risk that before they innovate they would have to ask ‘mother may I' to the companies that control access to the users on the other end of the line."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) has been pushing the nullification resolution, and indicated earlier this week she had the support to at least bring it to a vote on the floor.