Congress votes down FCC net neutrality funding

Rules safeguarding net neutrality laid down by US telecoms watchdog the Federal Communications Commission face being scrapped after a controversial vote by US legislators.

Members of the House of Representatives voted by a majority of 244 to 181 to amend a bill making sweeping cuts to the federal budget, ensuring that the FCC cannot use government money to enforce its new rules.

The rules, which were laid down in December, aim to protect broadband users from discrimination by ISPs by requiring them to provide equal access to all legal content over wired networks.

If enacted the amendment, which was introduced by Republican congressman Greg Walden, would remove the FCC's ability to punish offending ISPs - effectively killing US net neutrality stone dead.

The FCC's rules already face a challenge in the US courts from mobile carrier Verizon, and Walden's amendment has been condemned by critics as playing into the hands of so-called 'broadband barons'.

Online rights groups reacted angrily to the news. Craig Aaron, managing director of campaign group the Free Press Action Fund, said in a statement:

"The message from the new House leadership is clear: unchecked corporate power and rampant discrimination are their priorities. The amendments passed tonight are an outrageous overreach.

"The anti-Net Neutrality measure would leave Internet users without any recourse if their phone or cable company decided to block their access to Web sites or applications for any reason - because they don't like someone's political views, because they don't want any real competition or, well, just because."

In a separate move, House members voted to withdraw funding from a number of public policy 'czars', including the FCC's chief diversity officer, Mark Lloyd, who role is to increase media access for women, ethnic minorities and those living in rural areas.

Condemning the campaign against Lloyd as a "Fox News-fuelled conspiracy theory that has no basis in reality", the FPAF's Aaron called the withdrawal of funding "appalling and absurd":

Both amendments will need to be approved by the Democrat-led Senate and the Obama administration before they enter law.