Yesterday the House Appropriations Subcommittee released – and today approved – its FY 2016 Financial Services Appropriations Bill providing funding for the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies. But House Republicans included a “net neutrality surprise” in its funding bill.
Tucked in this $20.2 billion funding bill is language that would prohibit the FCC from implementing the net neutrality order, issued February 26, 2015, until three specific legal challenges are fully resolved, including any available appeals. This provision could likely delay implementation of the net neutrality order for several years. (The three challenges specifically noted in the bill were Alamo Broadband Inc. v. FCC, United States Telecom Association v. FCC, and CenturyLink v. FCC.)
Overall funding for the FCC would be dramatically cut under the Republican’s austere budget. Republicans are recommending a $25 million reduction for the FCC below FY 2015 levels and $73 million below the Obama Administration’s requested level. The bill contains $315 million for the FCC. While Appropriation bills, by tradition, generally eschew including legislative language, the House appears to make an exception this year by including non expenditure-related language that would require the FCC to make proposed regulations publicly available for 21 days before a vote, and prohibit the agency from regulating rates for either wireline or wireless Internet service.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services approved the funding measure on Thursday. The full Committee has not announced a timetable for consideration although the committee is seeking to pass all 12 appropriations bills in the coming weeks. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not released its funding measure.
Efforts to bring any appropriations measures to the floor in the Senate will be a challenge for the Republican Majority. Numerous sources and media reports indicate that Senate Democrats intend to filibuster all Appropriations bills on the Floor unless funding levels are increased. The White House has also indicated the President will likely veto funding bills. It is expected that FY 2016 appropriations bills will not be finalized for several months and may drag on through the Fall, well past the October 1 start of the Fiscal Year.
ALA has worked tirelessly to support the FCC net neutrality order and is greatly concerned that House Republicans are using back-door methods to thwart the implementation of open Internet protections. While this initial flurry of Appropriations activity is a strong statement by Republicans against the FCC Order, ALA will continue to urge this language not be included in any final funding bill in the coming months.