06.20.17

Vice Chairman Leahy's Statement On The FY 18 Budget Request For The Federal Communications Commission

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Vice Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee
Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government
Hearing On “A Review of the FY 2018 Budget Request for the Federal Communications Commission”

June 20, 2017

Thank you, Chairwoman Capito and Ranking Member Coons, for the opportunity to make brief remarks.

The Trump budget proposal for FY 2018 cuts funding for the FCC’s core budget by 5 percent. If implemented it would require a reduction in over 100 full-time employees. While this proposed cut may pale in comparison to the drastic cuts President Trump proposed for other agencies, it is a significant for an agency whose budget has been flat-funded since FY 2009. Perhaps this is a reflection of an agency, and an Administration, that is walking away from some of its core responsibilities. In no area do we see that more than net neutrality and broadband privacy protections. While the main focus of today’s hearing is the FCC’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2018, it is also the duty of members of the Appropriations Committee to provide oversight and hold agencies accountable for their actions. And today I exercise my oversight responsibilities.

Two years ago, nearly four million Americans – a truly unprecedented number – called on the FCC to preserve the Internet as a free and open platform for all. Americans from all walks of life and from all sectors of our economy participated in the FCC’s rulemaking process. They wanted strong, meaningful rules to protect consumers, small businesses, and startups. They wanted rules to protect the Internet as an open forum for commerce, ideas, and expression.

At a Judiciary Committee field hearing that I held in Burlington, Vermont, I heard directly from small businesses about why these rules are so important. They do not want any special treatment. They simply want assurance that the Internet would remain an equal playing field, so that they too could use the Internet to expand their businesses beyond the Vermont border without fear of prohibitive fees or being squeezed out of special Internet “fast lanes.”

The FCC’s landmark Open Internet rules reflected the concerns of these small businesses and of millions Americans. The FCC listened because net neutrality protections benefit and protect both consumers and broader marketplace competition. The rules ban pay-to-play deals that could derail startups and small businesses, stifling innovation. And the rules ensure that the Internet remains an open and dynamic platform for innovation and free speech.

Yet, immediately after President Trump appointed you, Chairman Pai, the FCC abruptly reversed course. Chairman Pai, your actions to gut the Open Internet rules appear to further only one cause: to ensure that large corporations are able to maximize profits at the expense of hardworking Americans and small businesses.

I am deeply troubled that under your leadership, the FCC has turned from an agency whose primary objective was ensure competition in the marketplace, to one that has been co-opted by moneyed interests and big business. I hope you will reconsider your ill-advised decision to undermine the Open Internet rules. Undermining net neutrality protections harms consumers. It hurts small business and startups looking to enter the market. And it undercuts economic opportunity and freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, in the past few months we have seen efforts to undermine important consumer protections not only from within the FCC, but also from Congress. I remain disappointed, but sadly not surprised, that Republican leadership and President Trump have teamed up to side with corporate interests over consumers when they rolled back commonsense broadband privacy protections. Americans should not have to worry that their personal information will be used or shared by their Internet providers without their express consent. Repeatedly placing corporate interests above the interests of consumers and hardworking Americans is unacceptable. Americans deserve better.

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