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House Passes Bill Barring FCC From Regulating Broadband Rates

The House on Friday voted 241-173 to pass a bill that would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from regulating broadband rates.

“If the FCC were to regulate rates — it could harm every American across the country that has a Wi-Fi connection by imposing artificial restraints on their plans and service options,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) from the floor of the House in support of H.R. 2666. “It would stop needed investments in expanding and improving the Internet.”

The legislation passed despite strong Democratic opposition and a White House veto threat. Democrats have said they support prohibiting the FCC from regulating broadband prices, but they argued that the legislation is too broad and would damage other FCC duties and responsibilities. “This bill is about undermining the FCC’s authority to protect consumers and ensure a free and open internet for all,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

All House Republicans and five Democrats — Reps. Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Albio Sires (D-N.J.) – voted for the bill.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has previously said he has no intention of regulating broadband rates, but Republicans said they support the bill to guarantee that no future chairman can regulate rates. Wheeler wrote a letter last month to Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saying the measure would undermine the FCC’s ability to enforce its net neutrality rules.

The House also voted down two Democratic-backed amendments, one saying the bill would not affect the FCC’s ability to act in “public interest, convenience, and necessity,” and another that would require broadcasters and cable and satellite providers to make public inspection files, which contain information about the funders of political advertising, machine readable.

Five trade groups representing the wireless, cable, and broadband industries wrote a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) yesterday in support of the measure, saying it would alleviate the threat “that the Federal Communications Commission will limit provider pricing flexibility or otherwise dictate the terms and conditions of our members’ service offerings.”