By a margin of 239-185, members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted last Friday to approve FY 2017 financial services and appropriations legislation (H.R 5485) containing FCC policy riders that pertain, among other things, to the FCC’s ongoing set-top box rulemaking proceeding and the regulation of broadband service caps and data rates. Lawmakers also adopted an amendment to the measure, introduced last Thursday by House Energy and Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), that bars the FCC from using appropriated funds to implement rules that may be promulgated through the agency’s ongoing rulemaking proceeding on broadband privacy.
While setting the FCC’s FY 2017 budget at $315 million (which is $69 million below the approved FY 2016 spending level and $43 million below the amount requested by the Obama Administration), the legislation also blocks FCC implementation of the 2015 Open Internet order pending resolution of all outstanding legal challenges. Other FCC-related riders would (1) prohibit FCC regulation of broadband service rates and data caps; (2) postpone further FCC activity on proposed rules that would open set-top box streams to third-party developers until 180 days after the agency completes a peer-reviewed cost-benefit study; and (3) require the FCC to make the text of proposed rules available for public review at least 21 days prior to an FCC vote. The measure also specifies that any previously-enacted “grandfathering” of broadcast television station joint sales agreements would apply “regardless of any change in the ownership of the stations involved in such agreement.”
The measure now moves to the Senate for further consideration. Although House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Anders Crenshaw (R-FL) advised reporters last month that the riders are intended “to turn the FCC’s focus to ‘mission critical’ work and away from politically charged rulemakings,” Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood remarked Friday that the FCC, in proposing or enacting the rules targeted by the riders, “is following the pro-consumer and pro-competition laws that Congress passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis.” The Obama Administration has also signaled that a veto is likely if the bill is passed by both chambers of Congress in its current form.