Congressional Republicans have backed off an attempt to pass net neutrality legislation--a welcome turn for free internet advocates and technology entrepreneurs alike.
Some in congress had indicated that they would move to preempt new regulations on net neutrality formulated by Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler this month, and supported by President Obama. Fearing overregulation, critics called the rule change "Obamacare for the internet."
The full five-member FCC commission is slated to vote on the new rules Thursday. In addition to getting rid of the potential for so-called fast and slow lanes on the internet, as allowed by a federal court last year, the proposal would provide consumers with stronger privacy protections.
Wheeler's rules, which would reclassify Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as public utilities under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, are considered a more stringent approach than the regulations currently in place.
They are hailed by tech startups as a way to rein in the power of ISPs that were empowered last year by a federal court ruling that could have allowed them to give preferential download speeds to companies willing to pay for faster connections, as well as to block or throttle content.
Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, largely see the rules as an unprecedented expansion of power for the FCC. Separately, net neutrality experts foresee a protracted period of legal challenges ahead, as the cable industry seeks to undo the new rules.
"We're not going to get a signed bill that doesn't have Democrats' support," Senator John Thune (R, South Dakota), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, told The New York Times. "This is an issue that needs to have bipartisan support."
Earlier this year, tech companies Etsy and Amazon took to Capitol Hill to object to parts of Republican draft legislation that would have attempted to curtail the FCC from using Section 706 to regulate ISPs. That section, which is more lenient than Title II, classifies cable providers only as information services, and is currently the way the FCC regulates ISPs.
For their part, tech companies are happy about the proposed changes.
"Without strong rules, Etsy and the people who depend on our platform would suffer," Etsy chief executive Chad Dickerson recently wrote in a blog post. "If broadband companies can charge websites for priority access to consumers, we'd likely have to choose between increasing our fees or leaving Etsy sellers in the slow lane."