The Senate on Thursday voted to keep in place the Federal Communications Commission's controversial rules aimed at preserving open Internet access.
Republicans had pushed to overturn the so-called net neutrality rules, and a resolution to do so failed 52-46 in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The White House this week had threatened to veto the action if the Senate approved it.
The vote ends a months-long attempt by opponents of the rules to get them wiped out. In April, the Republican-controlled House voted 240-179 in favor of a similar resolution of disapproval.
Nearly all Republicans oppose the new rules, arguing the FCC overstepped its authority and that regulation of the Internet will stifle its growth.
"Over the past 20 years, the Internet has grown and flourished without burdensome regulations from Washington," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who led the push in the Senate to overturn the rules. "If we’re going to keep an open and free Internet and keep the jobs it spawns, we should reject the FCC regulation on net neutrality."
Many large telecommunications companies have opposed the FCC's rules, including Verizon Communications Inc., which has filed suit to stop them.
Most Democrats, including Obama, argue that the regulations are needed to preserve an open Internet as the telecommunications industry becomes more consolidated.
"Net neutrality is not about a government takeover of the Internet, and it is not about changing anything," said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) "Net neutrality and the rules the FCC passed are about keeping the Internet the way it is today and the way it has always been."
Public interest groups and Internet advocates have worried for years that providers of Internet service, such as Verizon, Time Warner Cable Inc., and AT&T Inc. might try to slow down access to online services, such as Netflix or Skype, that compete with their own offerings, or charge premiums to some sites for faster delivery of their content.
Major online companies such as Google Inc. have strongly supported net neutrality rules.
The Democratic controlled FCC voted 3-2 along party lines in December to adopt regulations that prohibit telecommunications companies from favoring their online services over those of competitors. The rules, which apply to wired and wireless services, forbid companies from blocking access by their customers to any legal content, applications or services.
The FCC also prohibited companies that provide wired Internet service from "unreasonable discrimination" in their treatment of access to content and services. The tougher requirement was placed on wired services because there are fewer providers than in the wireless industry.
Obama has been a strong supporter of net neutrality. He made it part of his 2008 campaign platform and appointed Julius Genachowski as FCC chairman. Genachowski pushed the rules into place.
Obama praised the FCC for enacting the rules last year, and the White House this week described them as "an enforceable, effective but flexible policy for keep the Internet free and open."
-- Jim Puzzanghera in Washington
Photo: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski. Credit: Bloomberg.