GOP Moves to Gut Net Neutrality, FCC Budget

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Republicans have opposed FCC efforts to impose net neutrality rules for years, and they are trying again with their 2017 budget proposal.

Not only would the plan prevent the FCC from enforcing its net neutrality rules, it would also end its plan to boost set-top-box competition, not to mention gut the agency's funding.

"We are still reviewing impacts and we will work with the committee staff to make them aware of potentially critical resource shortfalls," an FCC spokeswoman told PCMag.

The $21.7 billion proposal cuts the FCC's budget by $69 million to $315 million and prohibits the agency from implementing net neutrality orders until "certain court cases" are resolved (which could happen any day now).

The proposal also stops the new "unlock the box" rules, which would open up TV data to innovators who can create new consumer hardware and software to replace traditional set-top boxes, "until a study is completed."

Meanwhile, the bill "prohibits the FCC from regulating broadband rates," something it recently proposed for business data services. And the GOP wants the agency to make new rules public before they are voted on by the commission. As it stands, the FCC chairman drafts a proposal and circulates it to fellow commissioners before it's voted on at a public FCC meeting. At that point, the draft is open to public comment before a final vote, but the GOP wants the public to have access to drafts for 21 days before the first vote.

Keep in mind, however, that budgets proposals often go through many changes before they reach the president's desk, and Obama is unlikely to approve any legislation that would get rid of net neutrality.

But as congressional Republicans push for less oversight, a coalition of tech companies this week penned a letter urging the agency to examine the practice of zero rating, or allowing providers like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and T-Mobile to exempt certain services from data caps, which they say violates net neutrality.

The FCC declined to address zero rating in its net neutrality rules, the letter notes, due to "a lack of consensus on the issue in the record." But with services like T-Mobile's Binge On and Comcast's move to exempt its streaming service from monthly data caps, the companies argue that there are now a "broad enough set of test cases" for the FCC to weigh in.

"Together, we stand ready to contribute to your careful evaluation of this important issue, to protect an open Internet where innovation, competition and civil rights can thrive," said the letter, signed by Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Medium, Meetup, Mozilla, Pinterest, Reddit, Vimeo, Yelp, and others.

In December, the FCC sent letters to Comcast, T-Mobile, and AT&T requesting details about unlimited video streaming programs. But when asked during a Wednesday press conference about the status of that inquiry, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was vague.

"I hope no one has a doubt in where we stand on the fast, fair, and open Internet," he told reporters, according to a transcript of the discussion. "I'm aware of the recent filing. I think we will continue apace. At the root of it all is the question of the Open Internet order and the scope of the Open Internet order."

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