Budget could be used as weapon against FCC

Budget could be used as weapon against FCC

Republicans are hearing calls to use the congressional power of the purse to make it harder for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement controversial regulations on access to the Internet.

Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner on the FCC, told Congress to hamstring his agency by preventing it from implementing the rules, which treat the Internet like a public utility.

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“Congress should forbid the commission from using any appropriated funds to implement or enforce the plan the FCC just adopted to regulate the Internet,” said Pai, who voted against issuing the regulation and has been one of its biggest critics.

“Heavy-handed regulation does not come cheap,” he added. “The FCC has already wasted millions of dollars developing these regulations, and we are on course to waste millions more.”

The FCC has asked Congress for $413 million in funding, an increase of 21 percent over last year. Much of that money would go to moving the agency from its current headquarters in Southwest Washington, among other issues.

Congress has kept the agency’s funding “deliberately low” in order to have it focus on requests mandated by law, said Ander CrenshawAlexander (Ander) Mann CrenshawBottom Line The global reality behind 'local' problems Budget could be used as weapon against FCC MORE (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services, “but instead it seems that this agency has prioritized politically polarizing rule-making.”

“It seems to me that this net neutrality rule may have bumped into a lot of the statutory requirements that are there on the books,” he added.

However, Crenshaw said after the hearing that he was "not working" on a net neutrality measure in the budget "right now."

"We're a long way from putting together a subcommittee bill and a full committee bill," he told The Hill. "It's hard to say what's going to happen."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was forced to defend his agency’s tough net neutrality rules during the hearing.

Tuesday’s hearing was the fourth time Wheeler has appeared on Capitol Hill in the last week, where he has repeatedly defended the regulations.

Advocates — including many Democrats — say that treating the Internet like a utility is the only way to fully ensure that Internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon aren’t able to establish “fast lanes” online or block or slow people’s access to one website over another.

“The fact of the matter is that the Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform in the history of society,” Wheeler said. “It becomes a basic question of do you have rules and do you have a referee.”

Any attempt to undercut the rules through the FCC’s budget would likely meet strong opposition from congressional Democrats as well as President Obama, who has vocally advocated for tough rules like the ones issued by the FCC.

In addition to possible budget moves, some GOP lawmakers have also pinned their hopes on an attempt at creating a compromise bill that would replace the rules with some net neutrality provisions, while also limiting the FCC in other ways. Others have looked to kill the rules outright, which the White House would block.

This story was updated at 1:55 p.m.