FCC chairman doesn't plan to release net neutrality order before vote

Despite calls from congressional Republicans, Wheeler says the FCC should be able to debate the rules privately

The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has no plans to release the text of his proposed net neutrality order before a scheduled commission vote on it later this month, despite a request from some Republican lawmakers to do so.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will stick with the long-time agency practice of allowing commissioners to "confer privately" about the proposed order in the three weeks leading up to the scheduled Feb. 26 vote, he said in a Monday letter to Republican leaders of the Senate Science, Commerce and Transportation Committee and the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

Last month, top Republicans on the two committees called on Wheeler to release the text of his proposed order in order to give the public the opportunity to debate it before the FCC vote. Wheeler, as expected, is reportedly moving toward controversial new rules that would reclassify broadband as a regulated public utility, with some regulations similar to those imposed on common-carrier telephone service.

Despite the request from congressional Republicans, Wheeler wrote that the commission's net neutrality rule-making process, begun about a year ago, has given "stakeholders and members of the public ample opportunity to engage in a transparent and vigorous discussion." The FCC has received about 4 million public comments on net neutrality rules and hosted six public roundtables on the topic during the past year, Wheeler noted.

The Republican call for the FCC to release a preliminary discussion draft of the order "runs contrary to commission procedure followed over the years by both Democratic and Republican" FCC chairmen, Wheeler wrote. "If decades of precedent are to be changed, then there must be an opportunity for thoughtful review in the lead up to any change."

Commissioners should have the opportunity to discuss the proposal "in confidence," a common practice during decision-making processes at federal courts and administrative agencies, Wheeler added.

The FCC will continue to take comments from the public about net neutrality rules until the Feb. 26 vote, Wheeler wrote. FCC staff is also likely to brief the media in the coming days.

Spokesmen for Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on Wheeler's letter.

Wheelers letter to the lawmakers was first reported at Multichannel News.

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 U.S. SenateFred UptontelecommunicationregulationJohn ThuneU.S. Federal Communications CommissiongovernmentinternetInternet service providersbroadbandU.S. House of RepresentativesTom Wheeler

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