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The White House Steps Up as GOP Tries to Undo Net Neutrality Rules

House Republicans are trying to use the 2016 federal budget to undermine the FCC's new open internet rules.

Sam Gustin

Sam Gustin

Rep. Rogers. Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Republicans on Capitol Hill want to use the 2016 federal budget to blow up the US government's new open internet policy—and now the White House is pushing back.

The Obama administration has "serious concerns" about "highly problematic ideological riders" aimed at "delaying or preventing implementation of the FCC's net neutrality order," according to a letter to Congress dated Tuesday and signed by Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB is the executive branch's budget office.

Among those concerns are three provisions that would effectively kill the Federal Communications Commission's new open internet rules, which went into effect last Friday. Those rules are designed to ensure that broadband providers treat all internet data equally.

The White House response, while not quite a veto threat, is a clear warning to GOP lawmakers that the administration is willing to challenge their budget tactics.

The riders, attached to the GOP's latest $20 billion Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, would prohibit the FCC from implementing the open internet rules until industry court challenges have been decided. That could take years, especially if the new policy makes its way to the US Supreme Court.

The House GOP's budget "jeopardizes the independent regulation of financial markets and telecommunications," Donovan wrote.

The GOP bill also slashes the FCC's budget for next year—by $98 million, or 24 percent, compared to Obama's proposal—despite the fact that the agency's budget has "no impact" on the US deficit, according to the OMB director.

"Because the FCC is funded by regulatory fees and auction proceeds, its funding level has no impact on the deficit, nor does it impact the amount of funding available for other agencies," Donovan wrote.

Rep. Hal Rogers, the Kentucky Republican who chairs the House Appropriations committee, says that the GOP budget will make "great strides in reining in wasteful spending, and stopping harmful and unnecessary bureaucratic overreach."

The nation's largest cable and telecom providers detest the FCC's new open internet policy, which they say will subject them to unduly burdensome new regulations and cause prices to go up for consumers—and their GOP allies on Capitol Hill are working overtime to shut the new rules down.

Net neutrality advocates say that Congress shouldn't try to preempt the federal courts by using a backdoor budget trick to subvert US policy.

"The bill represents a dangerous power-grab that undermines the judicial process and disregards the will of the American people," Stanford Law Professor Barbara van Schewick wrote last week. "Congress should let the Open Internet Rules take effect and respect the judicial processes already in place for opponents of the rules to voice their concerns."

On Tuesday, a coalition of some 60 public interest and civil rights groups blasted the GOP effort to bury the net neutrality-killing language into a must-pass budget bill that funds the Treasury Department, the Judiciary, the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the FCC and several other agencies.

The White House has weighed in on the GOP's anti-net neutrality budget bill. Now, House Republicans will have to decide whether blocking the FCC's open internet policy is worth holding up the entire federal budget.