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Members of Congress adding unnecessary policy language or amendments, known as “riders,” to government appropriations bills is nothing new; it is a well-known tactic for getting controversial policies passed. Appropriations bills provide funding to government agencies, so they must be passed by Congress in order to keep everything moving. Some members of Congress use this as a loophole to try to sneak in language or amendments that will hurt existing policies and agencies.
The most recent appropriations bill before Congress, H.R. 5485 from the Financial Services and General Government Committee, provides the perfect opportunity for members who want to target the Federal Communications Commission. The agency was behind many consumer victories in the past year, including the implementation of net neutrality rules, the expansion of the Lifeline program to broadband internet, and a proposed rulemaking for opening up the video marketplace to competitors. In retaliation, members of Congress who are supported by major cable and internet companies have proposed riders to the appropriations bill that will hinder all three successes.
Yesterday, the White House released a statement indicating that the President will veto an appropriations bill that includes unnecessary and damaging riders, and urging the House of Representatives against hooking such harmful policy on legislation necessary to the continued functioning of the federal government. Notably, the statement explicitly calls out the riders that directly target critical FCC initiatives, deliberately undermining the ability of the expert agency to do its job. Though the statement specifically refers to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2017 before the House of Representatives, a version of this bill with some of the same problematic riders is also circulating in the Senate.
As the statement points out, the FCC has already gone through the lengthy, open rulemaking procedures set forth by the Administrative Procedure Act. The public, as well as industry stakeholders, have had multiple opportunities to weigh in on the topics. A robust record of comments and analyses from a wide-range of stakeholders has been established. The FCC has taken the time to consider the concerns submitted in the comments (or is in the process of doing so, in the case of the ongoing unlock the box proceeding). These riders in the appropriations bills will at best cause unnecessary delays and expenses, and at worst will eliminate policies the public fought long and hard to achieve. This is a critical juncture in telecommunications policy, among other objectives; we have to remain vigilant to ensure that the legacy of this administration will not be unraveled in its final days, just as we are achieving real progress towards a forward-looking, pro-consumer, and pro-competition digital economy.
We applaud the Administration for taking a stand against these appropriations riders, as well as President Obama’s previously stated support for the FCC initiatives these riders are attacking. But we need to send a message to members of Congress telling them we will not stand for sneaky riders attacking the FCC in any appropriations bills. You can learn more about the riders attempting to prevent the FCC from implementing net neutrality and contact your representatives about it here. You can learn more about the rider demanding unnecessary studies for the unlock the box proposal and watch the growing public cost as a result of the delays here. You can learn more about the rider attacking the Lifeline program in our letter we sent to Congress this week here, and contact the members behind these attacks.
These last-minute attempts for major internet and cable companies to get their way, after months and years of work from public interest advocates to achieve these policies, are outrageous. Congress has repeatedly emphasized the need for the Federal Communication Commission, through a variety of legislative acts, to do its job and ensure a competitive content marketplace and an open, affordable, accessible internet for all Americans. Now Congress needs to let the FCC do its job, without further delay or interference to the task set before it.