Net Neutrality Rider Hitchhikes with Spending Bill

Net neutrality supporters, along with many Democrats, were left woeful after the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill that affected the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Contained within the spending bill was a rider that blocks the FCC from regulating broadband rates that Internet service providers charge their customers.

According to the FY2016 Financial Services Appropriations Bill,

“[t]he bill contains $320 million for operations at the FCC, a cut of $20 million below the FY2015 enacted level. The bill provides funding for FCC moving expenses that can only be utilized if the agency significantly reduces the size of its leased space. The legislation also prohibits the FCC from regulating rates under the net neutrality order, and grandfathers all joint sales agreements (JSAs) from recent FCC JSA rules changes.”

Reining in the overreaching power of the FCC comes in wake of the recent Open Internet Order that requires Internet service providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. According to the Commission, it did not intend to regulate rates, but many remain unconvinced.

Republicans have been especially wary of the new rules and the strong possibility of greater regulation from the Commission. A parallel bill was introduced in the House that “would [also] outright block the rules until a court battle is settled, something absent from the Senate bill.” Still, opponents of the FCC regulations agree language in the Senate bill is getting narrower, but it needs to be even more tailored to constrain unnecessary FCC regulation.

Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) along with Ranking Democrat Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have been working together on the net neutrality issue for some time in hopes of reaching a respectable compromise. According to Nelson’s office the progress made thus far faces being “undermined if lawmakers try to fiddle with the FCC in a funding bill.”

Hopeful Democrats argued for more space for negotiations and reaching a compromise. But once again, attempts to strip out the rider were voted down on party lines. Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly predicted any attempts at a congressional compromise at this point in time “would be tough to sell.”

However, as details emerge regarding the rider it is clear that there are some strings attached. Sen. Jon Tester added and an amendment telling the FCC to “coordinate efforts with the Rural Utilities Service to optimize the use of limited resources and promote broadband deployment in rural America.”

All in all the net neutrality rider bill isn’t exactly perfect, but it is an attempt to limit some of the FCC’s unnecessary oversight power.