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US Congress panel approves Internet freedom bill

The author of the bill promises to work with critics who say it could have an effect on domestic policy

A U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee has voted to approve a bill that would make it official U.S. policy to promote an Internet "free from government control," with promises that the Republican majority would work with critics of the bill's wording.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's communications subcommittee approved the Internet freedom bill, an attempt to discourage other countries from advocating for control of the Internet by the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union and other international agencies.

Some trade groups and subcommittee Democrats had raised concerns that the bill would allow telecom carriers to mount new challenges to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and prevent law enforcement agencies from prosecuting cybercriminals.

But Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican and subcommittee chairman, said he didn't intend for the bill to address domestic Internet policy. Although Walden is opposed to the FCC's net neutrality rules, he said a congressional policy statement cannot force an agency to change its rules.

"This legislation neither requires nor authorizes the FCC to take any action," said Walden, sponsor of the bill.

Nevertheless, Walden promised subcommittee Democrats that he would entertain new language before the bill heads to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for a vote.

The bill, similar to a sense-of-Congress resolution that passed last year before the ITU's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), would make it official U.S. government policy to "promote a global Internet free from government control and to preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet."

After WCIT, countries will continue to push for control of the Internet by international agencies, Walden predicted. It's important for Congress to take a strong stand against that effort, he said.

Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, welcomed Walden's offer of compromise. It's important for the committee to speak with one voice against international governmental control of the Internet, she said.

A bipartisan agreement "will strengthen the hands of our diplomats in their negotiations," she said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.


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