Last night, President Trump quietly signed away our broadband privacy protections. The rules, passed by the Federal Communications Commission in October 2016, were years in the making, but only took a month for Congress and President Trump to dismantle. This unprecedented situation merits a further review.
Imagine you’re facing an emergency and you need a paramedic, fireman, or police officer, but don’t have a cellular phone available to call 9-1-1, or you do call 9-1-1 but don’t know or cannot communicate your location, and dispatcher cannot trace it. For many Americans this is a very frightening reality. Many low-income people cannot afford cell phones, and are unable to contact emergency services without a landline connection.
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.
Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee marked up its fiscal year (FY) 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. The bill includes appropriations for the Federal Communications Commission of approximately $341 million, below the President’s requested amount, and also requires the FCC to complete an impact study of its set-top box proposal before voting to increase video device competition for consumers.
As we speak, House and Senate Republicans on the Appropriations Committees are trying to attach a number of inappropriate legislative policy riders added on to important appropriations bills for 2017. One rider in particular takes direct aim at the Federal Communication Commission’s ongoing proceeding to “unlock the box.” That proceeding would unburden consumers of hundreds of dollars in annual rental fees for their cable boxes, open up the market for new choices as to how they access the content of their choosing, and lower barriers to entry for innovative technologists and for diverse and independent content creators.