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May 26, 2016

Republican Bill Would Halt Net Neutrality, FCC’s Set-Top Box Plan

The Republican Party is doing all it can to put a stop to Net neutrality.

House Republicans have released a plan to cut tens of millions of dollars from the Federal Communications Commission’s budget, thwart the agency from enforcing Net neutrality rules and hamper the FCC’s attempts to open competition for TV set-top boxes.

The House Appropriations Committee’s proposed budget contains $315 million for the FCC — $69 million less than it received in fiscal 2016 and $43 million below what it requested.

The legislation also prohibits the FCC from implementing Net neutrality until certain court cases are resolved and would compel the agency to make newly proposed regulations publicly available for 21 days before the Commission can vote on them. The bill would also prevent the FCC from regulating broadband rates and require the FCC to cease and desist all work on its proposed set-top box rule until a study is completed.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, in a press release, said the bill is all about wisely using taxpayer dollars and tightly holding “the reins on the over-spending and overreach within federal bureaucracies.”

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, however, said the bill does far more than hold his agency accountable.

“It would introduce significant uncertainty into the Commission’s ability to enforce the three bright line rules that bar blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization rules, as well as our general conduct rule that would be applied to issues such as data caps and zero rating,” he wrote in a letter Energy and Commerce committee chairman Fred Upton.

“It would also cast doubt on the ability of the Commission to ensure that broadband providers receiving universal service subsidies do not overcharge their consumers. Finally, it would hamstring aspects of the Commission’s merger review process.”

It remains to be seen if the proposed bill will be approved. It could even be vetoed by President Barrack Obama, who is a proponent of Net neutrality.

The FCC voted last year to reclassify broadband Internet as a telecom service, which is also known as Title II. Under the new rules, blocking and throttling are major no-nos as is paid prioritization, meaning broadband providers cannot implement “fast lanes” for streaming video providers willing to fork over enough cash. The rules also hand the Commission the authority to address questionable practices on a case-by-case basis.

Net neutrality rules are opposed by broadband providers like AT&T and Verizon as well as by many Republicans; notably Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Senate Commerce Committee chairman Sen. John Thune.

Meanwhile, the FCC in February approved a proposal to make it easier for software, devices, and other innovative solutions to compete with set-top boxes — many of which are leased by customers from pay-TV providers. The Commission had said it would fashion a framework that respects copyright laws, while still enabling developers to create new technology.

The FCC, earlier this year, said the price of cable set-top boxes were grossly inflated. The average American household, according to FCC stats, pays $231 annually to rent the devices, an increase of 185 percent over the past 20 years while the prices for other technology such as Smartphones and computers has decreased.


Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.