by Matthew L. Schafer
On Saturday, the House passed the budget bill H.R. 1, a bill that would defund public media and prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from enforcing its new net neutrality rules by withholding funding. In total, the bill, which passed by a 235 to 189 vote, cuts 61.5 billion dollars from the budget. It now heads to the Senate.
In its current form, the bill will withdraw any obligation on the part of Congress to fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which doles out public media funds, beyond 2012. Currently, the CPB receives around $420 million, or $1.40 per capita from the federal government.
The CPB was founded in 1967, in order to “complement, assist, and support a national policy that will most effectively make public telecommunications services available to all citizens of the United States.” It provides funding to NPR and PBS, as well as local member stations around the United States.
In response to calls to defund the PBS, PBS President Paula Kerger recently called the organization, America’s “biggest classroom.”
Politicians from both sides of the aisle have weighed in on cutting funding to the CPB. Party lines are sharply drawn with the majority of Republicans voting for the bill, while the Democrats largely voted against it.
“This is an ideological attack on public broadcasting,” Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) said on Capital Hill on Thursday, joined by an Arthur mascot from the PBS children’s show. “Arthur, your silence is eloquent. We cannot allow Republicans to lavish hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax breaks on Big Oil while leaving Arthur and his pals in the lurch.”
The bill has also drawn ire from public interest groups, including the media reform organization Free Press and the organization 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting.
“This is clearly political, not budgetary,” Timothy Karr, campaign director at Free Press, said. “Every time the GOP is in power, they offer a new measure to kill public broadcasting. But there’s something they don’t take into consideration—the American people love public broadcasting.”
Nonetheless, Republicans have been adamant about cutting funding to public media. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) had introduced a bill to defund NPR last year, and while some in the industry didn’t believe it would go anywhere, the recent NPR firing of Juan Williams as reignited Republican desires to zero out the funding.
“I’m a fan of public broadcasting,” Lamborn said on NPR on Thursday. “But we have to share in this as Americans to get our fiscal house in order. No one’s talking about eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or NPR. We’re just saying let’s not have the taxpayer subsidy.”
The Republican led House also went after the FCC’s controversial net neutrality rules, which would prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against different content. The House Subcommittee on Communications and Internet hosted the FCC’s commissioners on Wednesday. At the hearing, subcommittee chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), condemned the FCC for acting outside of its authority.
“The recent attempts of the FCC to regulate the Internet through the imposition of net neutrality rules is a solution in search of a problem,” Walden said, repeating an often argued point of net neutrality opponents. “In the end, these are issues better determined by network engineers, entrepreneurs, and consumers…”
Just a day after the three hour hearing, Walden submitted an amendment to be attached to the House’s appropriations bill. The amendment, which passed after a 244-181 vote, would “prohibit the use of funds used to implement the Report and Order of the [FCC] relating to the matter of preserving the open Internet.”
The potential defunding of both public broadcasting and net neutrality rules has left consumer advocates angered. Media Access project, a non-profit public interest law firm and advocacy organization, said that fighting the FCC amounted to choosing large corporations over the public interest.
“The FCC’s Open Internet rules should have gone even farther than they did,” Matt Wood, Associate Director of Media Access Project, said. “Yet Congress certainly should not preempt the FCC’s authority and ability to preserve free expression and innovation online.”
Nonetheless, the Democrat controlled Senate is more friendly to both net neutrality and public broadcasting, which would require the differing spending bills to be reconciled. Moreover, President Obama would have to sign the appropriations bill into law for it to have an effect, but has already indicated that he will veto it.
Flickr/HouseGOPLeader Congressman Markey
CORRECTION: In paragraph five, this article erroneously indicated that both the majority of Republicans and Democrats voted against the bill. That is, obviously, not the case. Only three Republicans voted against the bill. The correction has been made. We regret the error.