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House-Passed FCC Appropriations Bill Unwinds Some Pai-Backed Decisions

The House has passed an FCC funding bill that will almost certainly need major tweaking if Republicans controlling the Senate are expected to approve it since it blocks the FCC's proposed Universal Service Fund changes, one of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's priorities, and a just-approved item on inside wiring. 

Actually it is an omnibus appropriations bill, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, that covers everything from the Post Office and Treasury itself to the Federal Election Commission, as well as the FCC and Federal Trade Commission.

Among the amendments to the bill added by Democrats are one that would block reform, including a possible cap, on Universal Service Fund broadband subsidies. Then there is the cryptic: "None of the funds appropriated or other wise made available by this Act may be used by the Federal Communications Commission to finalize, implement, administer, or enforce the draft Declaratory Ruling in Federal Communications Commission document FCCCIRC 1907–04, released on June 19, 2019, or any ruling in MB Docket No. 17–91." 

Translation: The bill would block the FCC's plans to pre-empt a San Francisco ordinance on mandatory sharing of in-home broadband wiring that it says undermines the “quality” of broadband service, as well as the critical eye the FCC has just officially cast on the impact on broadband competition and deployment of "revenue sharing agreements between building owners and broadband providers, exclusivity agreements regarding rooftop facilities, and exclusive wiring arrangements."

That item was just approved June 19.

A third amendment would "compel" the FCC to provide Congress with an update into the results of its investigation into the sale by wireless carriers of geolocation data to third party aggregators, including a bounty hunter. All the carriers have said the practice has ended and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, when asked about it at a Hill oversight hearing, said he does not discuss ongoing investigations, a standard government agency practice, though he said the FCC was not dragging its feet. 

"[K]udos to Representative Lori Trahan (the California Democrat who authored the amendment) for her efforts to put pressure on the FCC to make public just what is going on,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who at the same Hill oversight hearing called on the FCC to complete the investigation and hold the carriers to account. She independently reached out to the carriers to make sure they had ended the practice.

Funding bills start out in the House, so the Senate has yet to take a crack at it. 

The Open Technology Institute is just fine with the Amendments.

“We applaud Congress for stepping up to protect the American people in areas where the current FCC leadership has failed," said OTI senior counsel Joshua Stager. "From public safety to consumer rights, the FCC has been asleep at the wheel."