Republican FCCers call for delay in net neutrality vote

But the agency's chairman says he intends to move forward with Thursday's meeting

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission should delay its vote on net neutrality rules for at least a month after releasing Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for public comment, the commission's two Republican members said Monday.

Instead of voting on Wheeler's net neutrality proposal on Thursday, as scheduled, the FCC should open his 332-page proposal to the public "and allow the American people a reasonable period of not less than 30 days to carefully study it," Commissioners Ajit Pai and Mike O'Rielly wrote in a joint statement.

Wheeler, part of the three-Democrat majority on the commission, immediately rejected the request, however. The FCC received more than 4 million public comments on net neutrality during the past year, and they "helped shape" his proposal," he wrote on Twitter. "It's time to act."

The open Internet's future is at stake, Wheeler added in a second tweet. "We cannot afford to delay finally adopting enforceable rules to protect consumers and innovators," he wrote.

Wheeler has proposed reclassifying broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a more heavily regulated telecommunications service as a way to enforce net neutrality rules prohibiting broadband carriers from selectively blocking or degrading Web traffic. Wheeler's plan would treat broadband in some ways like a regulated public utility, but would have the FCC forbear from some traditional telecom rules, like price regulation.

Many Republicans have opposed Wheeler's plan to reclassify broadband as a regulated telecom service, with many questioning his change of heart from an earlier, less heavy-handed proposal that would have allowed broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management. Wheeler has said public comments helped convince him to instead reclassify broadband.

The public should see the new proposal because it is "dramatically different" than one the chairman put out for comment in May, said Matthew Berry, a spokesman for Pai. "The American people therefore deserve to see the plan and be able to offer feedback before the Commission takes the momentous step of regulating the Internet," he said by email.

If the FCC releases the proposal and public feedback "lacks merit," then the commission can pass the plan after 30 days, Berry added. "If people offered constructive suggestions and the commission wanted to make changes to the plan, then the delay would be longer," he added. "It is more important to get this right than to get it done right now."

Releasing Wheeler's complete proposal would be a change in standard FCC process. During other rule-making proceedings, the agency's chairman has released a nonpublic document to commissioners about three weeks before a vote, giving other commissioners time to debate and suggest changes to the proposal.

The FCC received "unprecedented levels of public comment on a variety of options" for net neutrality rules, FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said. Wheeler has followed a long-standing FCC process of circulating his proposal to fellow commissioners, and he "has seriously considered all input he has received on this important matter, including feedback from his FCC colleagues," she said.

Reopening Wheeler's proposal to public input, as Pai and O'Rielly have requested, could delay the FCC's net neutrality vote by months, said Michael Weinberg, vice president at Public Knowledge, a digital rights group advocating for strong net neutrality rules. The request from Pai and O'Rielly suggests they want another round of public comments on net neutrality, after two rounds of comments in the past year, he said.

The Republican commissioners seem to want an endless "loop," with a new round of public comments after any revisions to a net neutrality proposal, he said. "We've spent the last year going over net neutrality in all sorts of permutations," Weinberg added. "It's unclear to me what would be achieved by delaying this vote further."

The request from Pai and O'Rielly that Wheeler release his proposal echoes a similar request from congressional Republicans.

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 telecommunicationregulationKim HartMichael WeinberggovernmentinternetAjit PaiInternet service providersPublic KnowledgebroadbandMatthew BerryTom WheelerMike O'RiellyU.S. Federal Communications Commission

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