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GOP kills Owens broadband amendment

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From Washington correspondent Marc Heller:

WASHINGTON — To Rep. William L. Owens, saving rural broadband sounded simple enough: Keep the Federal Communications Commission from forgetting the countryside as the agency changes the way it makes and implements new rules for the telecommunications industry.

But Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, received an unwelcome surprise when Republicans rejected his effort on the House floor Tuesday, killing an amendment the congressman tried to attach to a bill making changes in the FCC’s rulemaking procedures.

Mr. Owens proposed to require the FCC to consider the effect on rural broadband before issuing rules and regulations, trying to ensure the changes would not impact programs aimed at expanding high-speed Internet in those areas.

It lost 222-194 on a mainly party-line vote.

In a statement, Mr. Owens’s spokesman, Sean Magers, said, “We’re disappointed the amendment failed, but Congressman Owens will continue his work to reach across the aisle and develop broadband access in rural areas like the north country.”

Often, Mr. Owens said in an earlier interview, regions like the north country are forgotten when agencies craft policies.

“We’re always at a disadvantage,” he said.

Mr. Owens said earlier in the afternoon that he expected no trouble passing the provision — but that was before it came to the floor, where Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of a House communications subcommittee, opposed it.

Mr. Walden, after pointing out his own rural bonafides and support for rural broadband, said the north country congressman’s provision could make the FCC less transparent by, in effect, exempting rural broadband from the bill’s provisions. The bill forces the FCC to be more open and to conduct more detailed research before implementing rules and regulations.

Mr. Owens, during floor debate, said his proposal made no exemptions and merely directed the FCC to take rural concerns into account.

The broader bill passed the GOP-led House, but the Senate’s Democratic leadership has not indicated a willingness to take up the measure.

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