Draft House Appropriations Bill Seeks to Stall Net Neutrality Spending by FCC

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By Lydia Beyoud

June 10 — A draft House appropriations bill proposes prohibiting the FCC from implementing net neutrality policies until a federal appeals court makes a decision.

In a further blow to the Federal Communications Commission's recent Open Internet order, the draft bill released June 10 would also prohibit the agency from rate regulation of either wireline or wireless Internet services. The FCC has repeatedly said it wouldn't engage in rate regulation as a part of its net neutrality rules, but opponents say such regulation is inevitable under the rules.

House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) introduced the riders on the bill.

The legislation proposed a $315 million budget for the FCC for fiscal year 2016, which is $25 million less than the FY 2015 enacted level and $73 million lower than the Obama administration's request.

The draft bill would also require new proposed rules to be made public for 21 days before the full commission votes on them.

The subcommittee plan to hold a markup of the draft bill, which includes appropriations provisions for other federal agencies, at a 9 a.m. meeting on June 11.

The public interest group Free Press called the provisions a “sneak attack on Net Neutrality” that would undermine the FCC's actions “and leave Internet users everywhere defenseless against the cable industry as its spurious legal challenges wind their way through the courts.”

New America’s Open Technology Institute also opposed the draft bill, stating it would tilt “the Internet's level playing field in favor of entrenched cable and telephone companies. A vote for this bill is a vote against consumers and small businesses, plain and simple.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is expected to decide whether to grant a stay of the order by June 11, a day before the rules take effect on June 12.

Opponents of the rules are primarily concerned with the reclassification of wireline and wireless broadband providers under Title II of the Communications Act, thereby subjecting them to greater regulation. Tech Freedom, a free market policy think tank, told reporters June 10 that public interest groups have promoted a myth that all small businesses and tech innovators support the rules.

The group said it and other Title II opponents believe the reclassification order could have “huge implications” for innovations such as consumer-selected paid prioritization of network traffic.

Tech Freedom President Berin Szoka said a court-granted stay would send a strong signal to Congress to more actively advance legislation that protects net neutrality principles while avoiding Title II regulations. Conversely, the public shouldn't read too much into the court's decision in the event the court allows the rules to take effect while it hears the case.

Title II proponents, however, have said that such an outcome would strengthen the FCC's hand in the proceeding.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

Text of the draft legislation is at http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/BILLS-114HR-SC-AP-FY2016-FServices-SubcommitteeDraft.pdf.

Information on the markup is at http://appropriations.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=394243.