A temporary legislative fix to regulate broadband traffic failed to garner Republican support, killing the chance of a remedy from the U.S. Congress before the mid-term elections, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman said on Wednesday.
For weeks, Waxman floated legislation contingent on bipartisan support that he said would serve as "an interim measure to protect net neutrality while Congress considers a permanent solution."
The underlying idea of net neutrality is that high-speed Internet providers should not be allowed to give preferential treatment to content providers that pay for faster transmission.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took up the controversial issue over the summer but was unable to reach a consensus with phone, cable and Internet companies.
Waxman's proposal would have prevented broadband providers from blocking legal websites, but fell short of holding mobile providers to more stringent net neutrality standards.
While wired broadband providers would be prohibited from discriminating against certain content, such as lawful online videos and other bandwidth-hogging files, mobile providers would not be subject to this standard.
Wireless carriers are lobbying to be allowed to prioritize Internet traffic on congested wireless networks and have said they already do so to allow handsets to make and receive phone calls.
Waxman's bill would also have halted an FCC proposal to reclassify broadband providers under stricter phone rules to reclaim authority over broadband access.
The FCC lost such oversight when a U.S. appeals court ruled that it had failed to show it had the authority to stop Comcast Corp from blocking online applications using lots of bandwidth.
Waxman said in a statement on Wednesday that support for the bill was not there.
"If Congress can't act, the FCC must," Waxman said, in a show of support for broadband reclassification. Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Inc, Comcast and other broadband providers strongly oppose such action.
The FCC declined to comment on the legislation.
The FCC and industry stakeholders attempted to craft a framework for net neutrality over the summer, but talks crumbled over the issue of wireless broadband, in particular.
At stake is how quickly handheld devices, like Research in Motion's BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone, can receive and download videos and other content.
"The FCC must act now to protect consumers by reinstating its authority over broadband," said Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge, a public interest group.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said earlier in September that the FCC was still considering all options.
The FCC continues to review more than 50,000 comments on the issue of reclassification, and is seeking additional comment on the impact to companies and consumers if wireless devices are treated differently from home broadband lines.
Joel Kelsey, political adviser for the public interest group Free Press, urged swift action from the FCC.
"Consumers are currently unprotected, and it would be irresponsible for the FCC to fail to act," Kelsey said.
Still, Waxman said he would not close the door on moving the bill during a lame duck session.
"Cooler heads may prevail after the elections," he said.
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