Bill Blocking Net Neutrality Approved by Financial Services Subcommittee

The House Financial Services Subcommittee Thursday (June 11) approved by voice vote an appropriations bill that would cut the FCC’s funding and block net neutrality rules from being implemented, a sort of legislative stay, though it would have to be ex post facto if a federal court does not stay the rules and they go into effect June 12.

But passage did not come before Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.) took aim at those provisions.

Republicans are proposing cutting the FCC's budget from last year by $25 million, and $73 million below its new budget request, most of the additional ask is to cover moving to a new headquarters that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has pointed out will save money in the long-run. It has also added FCC-related riders including one that would prevent enforcement of the net neutrality rules until all the court challenges have been resolved.

Serrano said that the FCC budget cut was penny wise and pound foolish and would force the FCC to either spend more now to stay in its more expensive headquarters, spend more later to move, or cut some core essential services.

He also called the net neutrality rule rider among the most "excessive" riders, and one that would make the bill unpassable from the Democratic view. He said the rider was fundamentally flawed from a policy and procedural standpoint and would block the FCC's important step of insuring Internet content is treated the same way for everyone, in service of "a few large corporations." He said the bill will encourage plaintiffs to delay resolution of the cases.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the parent Appropriations Committee, said the bill was balanced and would continue to rein in agencies not adequately performing for the taxpayer.

House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Communications Subcommittee Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) called it a reckless, politically motivated decision.

“The FCC plays a vital role protecting consumers in the 21st century economy," they said in a joint statement. "Millions of Americans have made their voices heard and called on the FCC to enact strong net neutrality protections. Instead of listening to the will of the people, Republican appropriators are playing politics with the FCC's budget and dangerously underfunding this critical agency. This is yet another attempt by House Republicans to delay policies they do not support, and it is an irresponsible way to govern.”

"We are disappointed by today’s vote and urge the full House Appropriations Committee to fix this legislation at the next markup," said Joshua Stager, policy counsel for New America’s Open Technology Institute. "As currently drafted, the bill jeopardizes our digital economy by tilting 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 Committee Republicans are side-stepping the carefully calibrated process that Congress itself has set up to allow parties that disagree with administrative decisions to seek a remedy," blogged Stadford Law Professor Barbara Van Schewick following the vote ( "The power to grant a stay belongs to the courts, not to Congress.

Schewick does not disagree with the FCC decision. "The bill represents a dangerous power-grab that undermines the judicial process and disregards the will of the American people," she said.

“[I'm] Deeply disappointed to see Congress working so hard to thwart the will of the people," said Common Cause Program Director Todd O'Boyle. "It’s so much worse that Congress voted this way just as our historic and hard-won open internet protections are slated to go into effect.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.