Republicans Slam FCC for Succumbing to Obama’s ‘Bully Tactics’ on Net Neutrality

“Chairman Wheeler’s proposal “¦ is a power grab for the federal government,” Sen. John Thune said.

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) speaks on Capitol Hill October 12, 2011 in Washington, DC. Senate Republicans spoke to reporters briefly after attending their weekly Senate Republican Policy Committee closed luncheon meeting. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
National Journal
Dustin Volz
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Dustin Volz
Feb. 4, 2015, 9:55 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans in Con­gress wasted little time con­demning the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion’s plan to ad­opt sweep­ing net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions, ac­cus­ing the agency of a big gov­ern­ment “power grab” that blatantly panders to Pres­id­ent Obama’s wishes.

In an op-ed in Wired magazine pub­lished Wed­nes­day, FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er said the rules would guar­an­tee “the rights of In­ter­net users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of in­nov­at­ors to in­tro­duce new products without ask­ing any­one’s per­mis­sion.”

But GOP law­makers said the agency is in­ten­tion­ally cir­cum­vent­ing the le­gis­lat­ive branch.

“Chair­man Wheel­er’s pro­pos­al to reg­u­late the In­ter­net as a pub­lic util­ity is not about net neut­ral­ity — it is a power grab for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment by the chair­man of a sup­posedly in­de­pend­ent agency who fi­nally suc­cumbed to the bully tac­tics of polit­ic­al act­iv­ists and the pres­id­ent him­self,” said Sen­ate Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Thune in a state­ment.

Thune and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans are doubly agit­ated be­cause they have at­temp­ted in re­cent weeks to craft their own le­gis­lat­ive com­prom­ise on net neut­ral­ity, amid fears that the writ­ing has been on the wall since Obama came out pub­licly in sup­port of util­ity-style reg­u­la­tion of the In­ter­net un­der Title II of the Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act. Thune as well as Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee have draf­ted le­gis­la­tion that would block the many of the same be­ha­vi­ors as Wheel­er’s rules, such as block­ing web­sites or char­ging for speedi­er ser­vice.

“If the only ob­ject­ive be­hind the FCC’s new pro­pos­al was to pro­tect an open In­ter­net and es­tab­lish net-neut­ral­ity rules, we could ac­com­plish that through bi­par­tis­an le­gis­la­tion and avoid the years of un­cer­tainty and lit­ig­a­tion cre­ated by Chair­man Wheel­er’s rad­ic­al pro­pos­al,” Thune ad­ded.

But Thune’s bill would not go quite as far as Wheel­er’s rules, which most Demo­crats fa­vor. It would es­sen­tially strike the FCC’s au­thor­ity over much of the In­ter­net out­side of net neut­ral­ity — a com­prom­ise Demo­crats have so far been un­will­ing to en­ter­tain.

Obama has also in­dic­ated he is skep­tic­al of a le­gis­lat­ive deal. Last month, the White House sent a let­ter to Thune say­ing it favored “straight­for­ward pro­tec­tions” to net neut­ral­ity un­der Title II.

Rep. Greg Walden, chair­man of the House Com­merce Com­mu­nic­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee, charged Wheel­er for not be­ing trans­par­ent enough with his pro­pos­al, on which the FCC is slated to vote on Feb. 26. The vote of the five-mem­ber bi­par­tis­an agency is ex­pec­ted to be 3-2 vote in fa­vor of the net-neut­ral­ity rules. Wheel­er will share his draft reg­u­la­tions with the oth­er com­mis­sion­ers this week.

“The chair­man re­jec­ted our re­quest for trans­par­ency, wrap­ping him­self in old-school, Wash­ing­ton reg­u­lat­ory mumbo jumbo,” Walden said dur­ing a markup Wed­nes­day. “This is not how it should be done, and in many states, pub­lic util­ity com­mis­sions op­er­ate far more in the open when they con­duct the people’s busi­ness.”

Just as quickly as Re­pub­lic­ans have come out to blast Wheel­er’s pro­posed rules, Demo­crats have come out to de­fend them. Rep. Anna Eshoo, the rank­ing mem­ber on the House Com­merce Com­mit­tee, called the rules a “tri­umph for the Amer­ic­an con­sumer.”

Un­der Wheel­er’s pro­posed rules — de­scribed as the “strongest pos­sible” — broad­band would be re­clas­si­fied as a “tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions ser­vice” un­der Title II of the Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act. The move would em­power the FCC with ex­pans­ive new au­thor­it­ies over the In­ter­net to bar pro­viders from in­ten­tion­ally block­ing or slow­ing down on­line con­tent.

Ve­r­i­zon, Com­cast, and AT&T have countered that the reg­u­la­tion will lead to poorer-qual­ity ser­vice for all In­ter­net users and have vowed to file law­suits chal­len­ging the rules if they are en­acted.

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