A new proposal by House Republicans would effectively put an end to net neutrality while slashing funding for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The legislation would reduce the agency’s funding by more than 17 percent, likely leaving the agency crippled and incapable of enforcing its regulations.
The proposal would also explicitly prohibit the agency from making any rules regarding either cable set-top boxes or Net neutrality. “The bill contains $315 million for the FCC — a cut of $69 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $43 million below the request,” according to a statement from Hal Rogers, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations.
Over the past two years, Rogers has received more than $25,000 in campaign contributions from the telecom industry, according to OpenSecrets.org, a resource for federal campaign contributions.
“The legislation prohibits the FCC from implementing the Net neutrality order until certain court cases are resolved, requires newly proposed regulations to be made publicly available for 21 days before the commission votes on them, prohibits the FCC from regulating broadband rates, and requires the FCC to refrain from further activity of the recently proposed set-top box rule until a study is completed,” according to the statement.
Casting Doubt on the FCC
The cuts are part of the U.S. House of Representatives’ budget proposal for 2017. House Republicans have previously tried to prevent the FCC from enacting regulations regarding Net neutrality and cable rates, but have so far been unsuccessful.
Republicans in the House have argued that the proposed rules would be in line with the objectives described by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (pictured above) in his testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations in 2015. But Wheeler explicitly contradicted that assessment in a March letter to House Republicans.
Wheeler wrote that the House’s proposed rule “would introduce significant uncertainty into the commission’s ability to enforce the three bright-line rules that bar blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization rules, as well as our general conduct rule that would be applied to issues such as data caps and zero rating.”
In addition, Wheeler said the Republican proposal would also “cast doubt” on the FCC’s ability to ensure that broadband providers receiving universal service subsidies do not overcharge their consumers, while also hamstringing aspects of the commission’s merger review process. “I write to make plain that this bill is not consistent with the views I expressed last year,” Wheeler said.
An Ongoing Fight
As a result of the legislation, the FCC would effectively be barred from developing any regulations on Net neutrality regardless of how the market landscape might change in the future.
And, based on the timing requirements outlined in the bill, any action the agency wants to take to open the market for set-top boxes to third-party suppliers would have to wait until at least 2017, after President Barack Obama is out of office and potentially after Wheeler has been replaced as well.
While Obama is likely to veto any legislation that would block one of the key initiatives of his FCC chairman, Republicans are likely to continue the fight against Net neutrality with the next president.