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Republicans take aim at net neutrality in spending bill

In this May 15, 2014 file photo, protesters hold a rally at the FCC to support net neutrality. (Getty Images)

A House appropriations bill unveiled Wednesday would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from using government funds to implement net neutrality regulations until after a series of legal disputes are settled.

That could delay the controversial policy, which allows the agency to regulate the Internet like a public utility, for an untold number of years. For net neutrality enthusiasts, that essentially spells a death sentence.

Several companies and organizations brought suit against the FCC after the net neutrality guidelines were finalized, including Alamo Broadband Inc., CenturyLink and the United States Telecom Association. The appropriations bill says all of those must be resolved before money can be spent implementing the rules.

[Related: The real net neutrality lawsuits are finally here]

An FCC spokesman declined to comment.

The overall appropriations process is in flux due to a dispute between Democrats and Republicans over whether to raise current budget caps to provide more funding for domestic programs — a fight that could take months to resolve. The inclusion of the net neutrality language by House Republicans in the spending bill for the FCC, however, signals they plan to use the appropriations process as leverage on the issue.

The New America’s Open Technology Institute was quick to voice opposition to the bill.

“This proposal ignores the millions of Americans who asked the FCC for strong net neutrality rules. By gutting the Open Internet Order and blocking future attempts to protect net neutrality, the bill tilts the Internet’s level playing field in favor of entrenched cable and telephone companies,” Joshua Stager, the group’s policy counsel, said in a statement. “A vote for this bill is a vote against consumers and small businesses, plain and simple. Congress should reject this legislation as swiftly as it was unveiled,”

The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government subcommittee is expected to markup the bill on Thursday. Assuming the provision is approved by the subcommittee and committee, it would still need to clear both chambers of Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.