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Republicans attempt to push back FCC's Net neutrality vote

In a last-ditch effort to stop the FCC from adopting regulations to keep the Internet open, the two Republican commissioners are asking the chairman to delay the vote.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
4 min read

Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission are asking to delay the much-anticipated vote on the reinstated Net neutrality rules to give the public more time to debate the issue.

The FCC commissioners (left to right): Ajit Pai, Mignon Clyburn, Tom Wheeler (chairman), Jessica Rosenworcel, and Michael O'Rielly. FCC

In what appears to be a last-ditch effort to try to derail a vote on new rules on the management of traffic on the Internet, commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly sent a letter to Chairman Tom Wheeler on Monday asking him to release his full proposal publicly and delay the vote on the rules for at least 30 days to receive comments.

As is common with all FCC proceedings, the proposal has only been made available to the five commissioners on the FCC. It will be made public after the FCC votes on the order at its next meeting Thursday.

But Pai and O'Rielly said in their letter that an exception should be made.

"With the future of the entire Internet at stake, it is imperative that the FCC get this right," Pai and O'Rielly said in their letter.

The letter is the latest political maneuver from Republicans who are unhappy with the proposal that will likely become regulation later this week. Republicans in Congress have already drafted legislation that will put the Net neutrality rules into law, but strip the FCC of its authority. There have also been calls from conservative lawmakers to investigate President Barack Obama's role in the shaping of the FCC's proposed new rules.

In November, Obama made a public statement urging the FCC to adopt strong Net neutrality rules and supporting the reclassification of broadband as a utility, potentially bringing with it old-style telephone rules that critics say are too onerous in today's age.

Read more: Net fix -- all you need to know about the Net neutrality fight

This reclassification of broadband is the major issue Republicans and other critics, such as broadband companies, have with the new proposal. Wheeler has said this change is necessary to ensure that the new set of rules, which are replacing rules thrown out by a federal court a year ago, stand up to future legal challenges.

But Republicans, such as Pai and O'Rielly, along with broadband providers, like Verizon and Comcast, argue this simple change in how the FCC defines broadband could allow the government to set rates on broadband service or allow the government to add new taxes to broadband services.

Wheeler, who first introduced his proposal for new rules in May, said that the public has already debated these issues. In fact, the agency received more than 4 million comments on his Net neutrality proposal, thanks in large part to the urging of comedian John Oliver, who compared the cable companies to mafioso shaking down the FCC for favors.

Pai and O'Rielly argue that since the current proposal is substantially different from the one that the public commented on over the summer, the chairman should break typical procedure to ensure the public can debate the issues.

On February 5, Wheeler released his final proposal to the five commissioners, which includes two other Democrats. He also released a fact sheet about what is in the proposal to media.

Pai has criticized Wheeler in at least four separate press releases prior to today's letter asking the chairman to release the 322-page proposal publicly ahead of the vote. Wheeler has declined, stating that he will not break long-standing FCC procedure. And now he says the time has come for the FCC to vote.

"The FCC has received unprecedented levels of public comment on a variety of options for Open Internet rules over the past year through an open and transparent proceeding," a spokeswoman for the agency said in a statement. "The chairman has seriously considered all input he has received on this important matter, including feedback from his FCC colleagues."

In the last days before the FCC is set to vote on the new rules, critics and supporters are flooding the FCC, Congress and the Internet trying to influence the debate. On Monday, Twitter threw its support behind the Net neutrality rules. Previously, the social-networking site only offered support for new rules through its Washington-based trade group the Internet Association. But on Monday it made its own public statement supporting Net neutrality.

"Empowering 'lesser' or historically less powerful voices to express themselves and be heard globally is at the core of Twitter's DNA," Will Carty, Twitter's public policy manager, said in a blog post.

It's unlikely that the Republican commissioners' efforts will have much effect on the vote Thursday. With three votes from Democrats on the five-member commission, it's likely to pass.