House moves to rein in FCC powers

The House on Wednesday approved a proposal to prohibit funding for the Federal Communications Commission to implement regulations preempting state laws on Internet access.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) offered an amendment to the fiscal 2015 Financial Services appropriations bill that would keep regulators from modifying state laws in an effort to increase local options for Internet access. It was approved 223-200.

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Blackburn said her amendment would limit federal overreach.

"We don't need unelected federal agency bureaucrats in Washington telling our states what they can and can't do with respect to protecting their limited taxpayer dollars in private enterprises," Blackburn said. "Inserting the FCC into our states' economic and fiscal affairs sets a dangerous precedent and violates state sovereignty in a manner that warrants deeper examination."

Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Financial Services subcommittee, said the amendment would have the opposite effect.

"Whatever happened to localism or local control? This amendment means the federal government will tell every local citizen, mayor, and county council member that they may not act in their own best interests," Serrano said. "Any such amendment is an attack on the rights of individual citizens speaking through their local leaders to determine if their broadband needs are being met."

The Financial Services measure would slash the budget of the FCC, which is currently in the middle of multiple proceedings that irk House Republicans, inclduing whether to change the way Internet providers are regulated under federal law.

The bill gives the agency $323 million, $17 million less than it received last year and $52 million less than it requested for 2015.

In testimony to House and Senate appropriators, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the agency needs to increased funding to update its technology.

The agency's equipment and systems, some of which are a decade old, need to be updated to ensure the agency can complete it's role in regulating telecommunications markets, Wheeler said.

The amendment comes after Wheeler announced plans earlier this year to work with local governments to create community broadband projects, in the face of state laws that frequently prohibit such projects.

Wheeler said his plans, which come as the agency rewrites its net neutrality rules, would create more competition in the market for Internet access.

In June, Blackburn and other House Republicans warned Wheeler not to go ahead with plans to preempt state laws.

In a letter, lawmakers questioned Wheeler’s “ploy to override state laws restricting municipal broadband” and asked about the potential need for federal funding to bail out any community broadband projects that fail. 

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