The operative language in the Internet governance bill reported by the subcommittee reads:
"It is the policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and to preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder model that governs the Internet."
What's Net Neutrality Got to Do With It?
House Democrats imagine that those seemingly innocuous words could provide a legal foothold for litigants seeking to overturn the FCC's order, or challenge any other government actions concerning the Internet.
But 'Net Neutrality is the most immediate issue, with Verizon's challenge to the FCC's 2010 order pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which has previously overturned an action the commission took to rebuke Comcast for slowing certain content on its network.
The court is expected to hear oral arguments in the Verizon case later this year, and Democrats worry that the language in the bill about keeping the "Internet free from government control" could find its way into the arguments presented by the plaintiffs.
Democrats warned that the impact could be felt beyond the FCC, claiming that in talks with that agency and the departments of state, justice and commerce, officials had warned that the Internet governance bill could impede diplomatic efforts, ongoing litigation and other administration activities.
Moreover, the emphasis on removing government control could give ammunition to critics of ICANN around the world, who have complained about the close ties between the Internet governance body and the United States, according to California's Anna Eshoo, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee.
"I don't think there's any reason for this--we're making a mess that doesn't need to be made," Eshoo said. "I don't think it's the path we should go down. It's not in the best interest of our country. There are unintended consequences."
Republicans counter that codifying into law on a strong, bipartisan basis last year's resolution, which only narrowly focused on the WCIT conference, is a needed step to give permanence to the U.S. position opposing Internet censorship and repression.
"Such threats unfortunately continue to grow. That's why we're taking the language from last year ... and converting it from a sense of the Congress about a specific treaty negotiation to a general statement of U.S. policy," said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.). "If we really meant what we said last year, there's no reason not to enshrine it into law."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.