No member of Congress should be allowed to dismantle good public policy by sneaking language into funding bills. But that’s exactly what’s been happening in the latest attack on Net Neutrality.
This “legislation by appropriation” tactic is a convenient way for the cable and phone lobbies to accomplish their agenda on Capitol Hill. In contrast to the FCC, whose policymakers don’t rely on campaign contributions to keep their jobs, Congress is a place where industry's used to getting things done.
In June, three riders that would unravel the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules were introduced into a House appropriations bill — a bill that needs to pass to keep the government operating. The riders include provisions that would put the rules on hold until all lawsuits challenging these protections have been resolved. There’s also broad language that would prevent the agency from protecting consumers from fraudulent billing practices or investigating “zero rating” schemes that prioritize certain applications over others by not counting those applications against data caps.
The riders became part of a heated debate surrounding the bill thanks to a few outspoken Net Neutrality advocates in the House — particularly Rep. Jose Serrano, who introduced an amendment that would have stripped the riders from the bill, and Rep. Nita Lowey, whose own amendment would have removed more than a dozen other issues that have nothing to do with funding.
Both of those amendments were ultimately defeated and the committee passed the bill with the bad Net Neutrality riders intact. A full floor vote was expected in the House sometime this month, but that bill is now on hold.
This week the Senate took up companion funding legislation featuring similar attacks on Net Neutrality. While it includes only one of the three issues that were present in the House bill (the limitations on the FCC’s ability to protect consumers from fraudulent billing and investigate zero rating), it passed out of subcommittee in under 30 minutes without the language even being disclosed to the public. The bill is slated for a full committee markup on Thursday.
Congress should know better than to try and sneak this kind of language past Net Neutrality advocates. We won’t stand for sneak attacks and parliamentary tricks.
Earlier this month more than 1,200 people dropped by their House reps’ district offices to urge them to block the anti-Net Neutrality riders. If the Senate goes down the same road as the House, members can expect angry phone calls, emails and visits from their constituents. People aren’t just outraged at the effort to dismantle the FCC’s rules; they’re also mad about the method.