Republican FCC Commissioners Ask To Delay Net Neutrality Vote, Release Proposal
Three days before the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on the most significant Internet regulations in history, two commissioners are asking Chairman Tom Wheeler to delay the vote and release his proposal to the public.
“We respectfully request that FCC leadership immediately release the 332-page Internet regulation plan publicly and allow the American people a reasonable period of not less than 30 days to carefully study it,” Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly said in a statement Monday. “Then, after the commission reviews the specific input it receives from the American public and makes any modifications to the plan as appropriate, we could proceed to a final vote.” (RELATED: FCC/FEC Commissioners: Net Neutrality Regs Threaten Political Free Speech Online)
The commission is set to vote on Wheeler’s aggressive proposal — which will regulate Internet service providers as public utilities and set new standards for speed and pricing — on Thursday, when it is expected to pass by a partisan vote of 3-2. The FCC traditionally never releases proposed regulations prior to their implementation, prompting Pai to spend the weeks since Wheeler laid out the foundation of the plan to point out its most aggressive regulations in press releases and op-eds with commissioners from fellow agencies.
“Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that the American people are growing increasingly concerned about government regulation of the Internet and that they want the commission to disclose the plan,” the commissioners said. “Indeed, an independent survey last week found that 79 percent of Americans favored releasing the plan prior to any FCC vote.”
In a related story: FCC Commissioner: Net Neutrality Is A Threat To Free Speech
In Monday op-ed published in Politico Magazine, Commissioners Ajit Pai and Lee Goodman of the FCC and FEC joined forces to criticize FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s recent proposal to regulate Internet service providers as public utilities, which, among other things, mandate companies comply with government standards for speed and price.
Pai, who partnered with an FTC commissioner last week to warn that the plan limits the FTC’s ability to protect Internet consumers, said the new regulations could push the delicate regulatory balance the FEC has maintained over political free speech online. “While the FCC is inserting government bureaucracy into all aspects of Internet access, the FEC is debating whether to regulate Internet content, specifically political speech posted for free online,” the commissioners wrote.
After attempting to regulate political speech spending online in the 90s, the FEC voted unanimously in 2006 to exempt political content posted online for free from federal regulation.
Then-FEC Chairman Michael E. Toner said the rules “totally exempt individuals who engage in political activity on the Internet from the restrictions of the campaign finance laws. The exemption for individual Internet activity in the final rules is categorical and unqualified,” The Washington Post reported, adding that the rules “granted media exemptions to bloggers and other activists using the Web to allow them to praise and criticize politicians, just as newspapers can, without fear of federal interference.”
Last October Democrats on the commission proposed new regulations for Internet-based campaigning after a 3-3 vote left the agency divided over whether an anti-Obama campaign violated FEC rules when it posted two videos on YouTube, without reporting its finances or adding a disclosure to the ads.
The commission split along the same lines over the same rule in a similar case two months later, and held a hearing earlier this month dealing with Internet regulation, which drew 32,000 public comments — the majority calling for greater standards in disclosing the sources behind political speech spending.
“Even though it would require four votes for the FEC to regulate the Internet, these close votes and the risk of idiosyncratic case-by-case enforcement inevitably discourage citizens and groups from speaking freely online about politics,” the commissioners wrote.
The FCC’s new Internet regulations, which are widely expected to be implemented via vote Thursday by the Democratically dominated commission, could be the first step toward more broad cross-agency regulation of the Internet — something the Internet doesn’t need, according to the commissioners.