Senate Republicans push rider to limit FCC’s net neutrality rules

Senate Republicans are pushing a measure to bar the Federal Communications Commission from regulating broadband Internet rates under its net neutrality rules.

While the commission has vowed not to regulate rates under net neutrality, Republicans oppose the rules and are wary of expanding the FCC’s powers.

The measure is included as a policy rider in the Senate’s Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill that was reported out of an Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday. 

{mosads}It doesn’t go as far as a House provision that would outright block the FCC’s net neutrality rules until court challenges are settled.

Asked why the upper chamber isn’t going as far as the House to restrict net neutrality, Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), chairman of the Appropriations’ subcommittee on financial services, noted that Commerce Committee senators have been trying to hash out a compromise on the issue. He also noted that the GOP has a slimmer majority in the Senate than in the House.

“We are really trying to work with our authorizing committee, and Commerce is trying to come up with a solution to this. And so what we are doing is deferring to them,” he told The Hill. 

“It could be strengthened,” he added. “Ultimately there will be some sort of a conference, if we have an omnibus or whatever, there’s the opportunity to strengthen.”

Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ranking Democrat Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have been working on the net neutrality compromise in their committee. 

Nelson’s office said they had made “real progress” but it could be “undermined if lawmakers try to fiddle with the FCC in a funding bill.”

The full Appropriations Committee will take up the funding bill Thursday. Only a summary was provided Wednesday, with the full bill to be released after a vote Thursday. 

Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said he had “considerable concerns” with the funding shortfalls and policy riders that “don’t belong in an appropriations bill at this time.” 

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has continuously shot down the idea that the commission would use the net neutrality rules to regulate the rates that Internet service providers can charge customers, and he has not raised objections about that type of restriction from Congress when asked. 

Even some House Democrats have supported Congress placing a ban on FCC rate regulation. 

The controversial rules approved by the FCC in February would reclassify broadband Internet under the authority governing telephones. But advocates argue the commission refrained from implementing many of the utility-style provisions that would lead to rate regulation. 

The new classification gives the commission more authority to ensure Internet service providers such as Comcast or AT&T are treating all Internet traffic equally. The rule set up prohibitions on Internet providers from blocking, slowing or creating priority access to any website or app. 

The appropriations process in both chambers has been largely stalled this year. And even if the spending bill made it to President Obama’s desk, it is unlikely he would sign it due to its funding levels and a host of other policy riders that Democrats oppose. 

The spending bill would allocate $320 million for the FCC, a cut of $20 million from 2015. It also authorizes moving funding for the agency if it “significantly” reduces the size of its space, according to a summary. 

The bill would also prevent the FCC’s Joint Sales Agreement rules from applying retroactively to deals that were in place before the rules were approved last year. The FCC rules were meant to prevent media companies from having an ownership interest in more than one TV station in a single market, but broadcasters have objected.

— updated at 6:20 p.m.

Tags Bill Nelson Chris Coons John Boozman John Thune Net neutrality rate regulation Senate Appropriations Committee

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