Republicans call on FCC to release net neutrality proposal before voting

Three top Republican lawmakers say they want the FCC process to be more transparent

The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission should release his proposed net neutrality rules to the public before the commission votes in late February, three top Republican lawmakers said Friday.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler should allow the public to examine the full text of the net neutrality, or open Internet, order before the commission votes Feb. 26, said a letter from Senator John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the Energy and Commerce technology subcommittee.

The public should be able to "provide informed feedback, which ultimately produces better public policy," the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Wheeler.

"Transparency in this matter is particularly vital as so many of the public participants who have expressed an interest in net neutrality have no meaningful access to the proceeding at the commission," the three lawmakers wrote. "Limited access to information is beneficial to no one -- not to the consumers directly affected by commission action, not to the industries regulated by the rules, and not to the commissioners seeking to make informed decisions taking public feedback into considerations."

The FCC has received nearly 4 million public comments this year on net neutrality rules, but those comments were not in response to any official proposal released by the FCC. Wheeler appears to be leaning toward reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility after proposing to allow broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management. That first proposal from Wheeler met heavy opposition from advocates of strong net neutrality rules.

The FCC has received the Republican lawmakers' letter and is reviewing it, an agency spokeswoman said.

The FCC doesn't typically release proposed rules to the public before voting on them. In recent years, FCC staffers have hosted media briefings in the weeks before big votes at the commission, but the briefings provide the general direction of the proposed items, not all the details.

In some cases, the FCC's chairman makes changes to a proposed item within hours of the commission's vote, as the chairman negotiates with fellow commissioners in an effort to gain their support.

The three Republicans have released their own draft proposal for net neutrality rules, although some advocates of strong rules have criticized it as falling short of the protections Internet users need.

The Republican proposal, the subject of two hearings this week, is more transparent than the FCC process, Walden said Wednesday.

"This is a better process," he said during a hearing. "You'll actually get to see [our proposal] through a legislative, transparent, open environment."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags Fred UptontelecommunicationregulationJohn ThuneU.S. CongressU.S. Federal Communications CommissiongovernmentinternetInternet service providersbroadbandGreg WaldenTom Wheeler

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