Pro-net neutrality rally at the White House.Joseph Gruber
The White House has urged Republican lawmakers to give up efforts to strip the Federal Communications Commission of regulatory powers and tens of millions of dollars in budget funding. President Obama’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto the House of Representatives’ budget bill for fiscal 2017 because of these and other provisions.
The Republican budget proposal “includes highly problematic ideological provisions,” like ones that “prevent the Federal Communications Commission from promoting a free and open Internet and encouraging competition in the set-top box market, impacting millions of broadband and cable customers,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement of administration policy yesterday.
The budget plan includes sections delaying or preventing implementation of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which were just upheld by an appeals court despite a lawsuit filed by broadband providers. With the case possibly heading to the Supreme Court, a budget rider would prevent enforcement of net neutrality rules until broadband providers have exhausted all appeals.
The budget plan would also prevent the FCC from stopping unjust and unreasonable pricing and data cap practices, regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome.
Protesting these provisions, the White House said:
For almost a century, US law has recognized that companies who connect Americans to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of Americans’ homes or businesses.
It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information—whether a phone call, or a packet of data.
The FCC’s rules recognize that broadband service is of the same importance, and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do.
These carefully designed rules have already been implemented in large part with little to no impact on the telecommunications companies making important investments in the US economy, and would ensure that neither the cable company nor the phone company would be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what Americans can do or see online.
The appropriations process should not be used to overturn the will of both an independent regulator and millions of Americans on this vital issue.
The Republican budget proposal has passed through the necessary committees and is pending a vote of the full House.
The budget plan would also delay the FCC’s attempt to write new rules designed to encourage more competition in the cable TV set-top box industry. “The FCC is already committed to a lengthy, thorough rulemaking process that would establish a robust record of comment and analysis from companies, non-profit organizations, and academics,” the White House said. “The current provision unnecessarily interferes with these long-established processes by requiring a delay of at least 270 days, and probably much longer, and a redundant, potentially costly study.”
Additionally, the White House objected to the Republican budget proposal to reduce FCC funding. The commission requested $358.3 million in fiscal 2017 budget authority from regulatory fee collections, $25.7 million less than the current year’s budget, which included extra money for moving to a new facility to reduce space usage.
The House’s proposed budget allocates $314.8 million.
Such reductions would force the FCC to scale back work on public safety, wireless spectrum, and IT modernization, the White House’s statement said.
The budget reduction could also harm efforts to save taxpayers money and boost government revenue, the White House said.
Specifically, the lower budget proposal would “undermine efforts to save the taxpayers money by consolidating office space and improving oversight of the Universal Service Fund” and harm efforts to modernize the infrastructure needed to support spectrum auctions that “have the potential to return tens of billions of dollars to the U.S.
The House budget proposal came from the Appropriations Committee chaired by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who received $25,500 from the telecom industry in the current campaign cycle. Rogers’ budget announcement last month did not provide reasons for the FCC provisions. We contacted a Rogers spokesperson this afternoon about the White House objections and will update this story if we get a response.
Budget bill sponsor Rep.
Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) recently argued that the FCC’s spending should be decreased. “While the FCC is fee-funded, these fees are directly passed on to consumers,” he said. “Anyone who has a phone can see these fees in their monthly bill.
For this reason, I believe the costs of the FCC’s operations are closely felt by consumers and warrant close scrutiny by this Committee and Congress.” On net neutrality, Crenshaw said that “a legislative stay is necessary until the courts have the final say.”
In addition to FCC-related items, the White House said it objects to budget provisions that “restrict the IRS’ ability to implement the Affordable Care Act (ACA), interfere with important new regulations designed to protect consumers from risky or abusive lending… undermine the principle of home rule for the District of Columbia… [and] bar Federal agency efforts to reduce the risks and costs of flood disasters.”