House Appropriations OKs Set-Top-Pausing Amendment

WASHINGTON -- A divided House Appropriations Committee Thursday passed an FCC appropriations bill, part of a larger Financial Services Bill, that would require the FCC to pause the set-top box proceeding impact studies were completed, would block broadband rate regulation, would block FCC net neutrality rules until legal challenges were resolved and would require the FCC to publish items 21 days before they were voted on.

Chairman of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee Anders Crenshaw (R-Fla.) said during the markup that the FCC-related amendments to the bill were a way "to turn the FCC's focus to "mission critical" work and away from politically charged rulemakings."

Ranking member José Serrano (D-N.Y.) called them part of a toxic combination his side had no choice but to oppose.

Serrano and another New York Dem, Rep. Nita Lowey, tried to strip the FCC riders from the bill, but were unsuccessful.

The amendments blocking the set-top proposal and net neutrality, both of which President Obama went out of his way to support, and blocking broadband rate regulation, which Democrats say is overbroad, have little chance of making it to a bill signed into law.

Read more about the FCC's set-top proposal.

The approval came the same day some legislators elsewhere on the Hill were pushing the FCC to move ASAP on the set-top proposal and not delay for more study.

But a pair of House Democrats quickly praised the inclusion of the set-top pause provision in the appropriations bill.

"We commend the Committee for including in the underlying bill, language requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to complete a study on the impact of its proposed set top box rule on consumers and the telecommunications ecosystem," said Reps. Gene Green of Texas and Yvette Clarke of New York. Clarke, a leader in the Congressional Black Caucus, has called for delaying action until a study of the impact of the proposal on minority programmers. Backers of the proposal say it will help, not hurt minorities, and have criticized Clarke. sometimes harshly, for suggesting otherwise.

"The FCC’s proposed rule has the potential to detrimentally impact consumer privacy, creative rights, diversity of voices, cybersecurity, energy efficiency and the consumer experience," said Green and Clarke. "This is why we, along with 175 Members of Congress, have raised these concerns. In April, 53 House Democrats joined our letter to the FCC, calling for the Commission to push the “pause button” on its proceeding while these serious concerns are thoroughly examined in a peer reviewed report. Regrettably, the FCC seems intent upon moving forward, and has been dismissive of the legitimate concerns raised by Congress, as well as numerous civil rights organizations, content providers, minority programmers, labor unions, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens. We ask why does it appear as though the FCC is so determined to finalize this rule. Given the breadth of opposition and the likely harm that would result to consumers, Congress is right to insist that the FCC suspend its artificial timetable and conduct an independent review that will fully examine the potential unintended consequences that would likely result from the Chairman’s proposal.”

Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood was not happy with any of the FCC-related riders.

“Yet again we see the same Republicans ignoring the widespread public support for Net Neutrality rules and pro-competition policies, even though these rules are supported by Republican and Democratic voters alike," Wood said. "These poison pill anti-Net Neutrality riders proved too controversial to make it into the final budget deal last year. But these representatives keep trying to undermine common-sense safeguards for the open internet. Today featured more of the same from a handful of elected officials who are doing the bidding of industry lobbyists dead-set on reversing the FCC’s Net Neutrality order. The representatives voting for these measures care more about protecting cable companies than their own constituents. But the public won’t stand for any scheme to sneak these attacks into spending bills and legislate away internet freedoms."

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.