BUSINESS

FCC's Pai: Net-neutrality proposal is secret Internet regulation plan

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai says FCC is preparing a 'secret plan to regulate the Internet'

A Republican on the Federal Communications Commission blasted the net-neutrality proposal from the agency's chairman as a "secret plan to regulate the Internet" that "opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes" on broadband services.

Commissioner Ajit Pai said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, was misleading the public about what's in the plan. At a Tuesday news conference, Pai held up a copy of the thick draft proposal and called on Wheeler to make it public before the agency votes on it on Feb. 26.

"I believe the public has a right to know what its government is doing, particularly when it comes to something as important as Internet regulation," said Pai, an ardent opponent of net neutrality regulations.

"I have studied the 332-page plan in detail, and it is worse than I imagined," he said.

The FCC typically does not release draft orders until after they are approved by the commission. Wheeler has the authority to do so but FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said he will not break with "long-standing FCC practice."

Wheeler's proposal would impose tough new federal oversight of online traffic to ensure Internet providers don't give preference to video and other content from some websites over others.

The plan would put wired and wireless broadband service providers in the same legal category as highly regulated telephone companies, although Wheeler said the FCC would take a light-touch approach that would not include rate regulation.

Democrats have a 3-2 majority on the commission and the proposal is expected to pass despite the opposition of Pai and the other Republican, Michael O'Rielly.

Pai spent 45 minutes Tuesday criticizing the report as an unnecessary overreach that would harm consumers and businesses.

"I foresee adverse consequences for the entire Internet economy," said Pai.

Highlighting the volatility of the issue, the news conference was disrupted by two supporters of net-neutrality rules.

Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese of the group PopularResistance.org yelled at Pai to "stop representing the telecoms" as security guards pulled them to the ground and forced them to leave the commission's public meeting room.

Pai said the plan's reclassification of broadband under Title 2 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 would make rate regulation inevitable. But he stopped short of saying Wheeler and other agency officials were lying about it.

"I don't think they're lying," he said. "I think they’re putting their spin on the proposal."

Hart noted that the FCC has overseen mobile voice calling under the same legal framework since 1993 and has not regulated prices in that sector.

“The proposal will not regulate the prices broadband service providers charge their customers," she said, reiterating recent comments by Wheeler.

Pai repeatedly referred to the proposal as "President Obama's plan to regulate the Internet."

In November, Obama publicly called for the FCC to take a tougher regulatory approach than Wheeler initially proposed last year.

The plan Wheeler unveiled last week appears to be very similar to what Obama called for and two congressional committees have launched investigations into whether the president improperly influenced the independent FCC.

Public interest groups and some leading Internet companies, such as Amazon.com, also supported stricter government oversight of online traffic, as did the vast majority of nearly 4 million public comments submitted to the agency on the issue.

Pai said it was "very clear that ... outside political influences determined the trajectory of where the FCC is going."

"The president's plan to regulate the Internet is going to be the FCC's plan to regulate the Internet," he said.

Pai echoed top congressional Republicans in asking Wheeler to make the draft public before the Feb. 26 vote.

Last week, Pai posted a picture on Twitter of himself holding what he called Obama's "332-page plan to regulate the Internet."

"I wish the public could see what's inside," Pai tweeted.

The FCC has said the draft contains only eight pages of new regulations and the rest contains responses to the public comments on the issue.

Pai admitted Tuesday that the plan was not all regulations.

But he said in addition to the eight pages of new rules, there were 79 pages detailing other telecommunications regulations the FCC would exempt or not exempt Internet providers from complying with. There also were additional pages containing "extensive discussion" about how regulations would be interpreted and applied," Pai said.

"We need to make this plan public so that the American people can make a decision for themselves," Pai said.

But Pai said he would not violate agency rules and release the report himself.

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