Three key congressional Republicans on Friday called on the head of the Federal Communications Commission to release the exact language of his proposed net neutrality regulations publicly before the agency votes on them next month.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the lawmakers said the strong interest in new rules for Internet traffic meant members of Congress and average Americans should know exactly what's being proposed before it's enacted.
The FCC said it received more than 3.9 million comments from companies, advocacy groups and average Americans last year on Wheeler's initial proposal for regulations to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against traffic flowing through their networks.
“Given the significance of the matter and the strong public participation in the commission’s proceeding to date, we believe the public and industry stakeholders alike should have the opportunity to review the text of any proposed order or rules prior to commission action," said the letter from Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)
Wheeler has indicated he plans to propose utilitylike like regulation of broadband companies to prevent them from blocking or slowing websites and prohibit offering to deliver some firms' content faster if they pay a premium.
President Obama has publicly called for such a move, which would please Democrats, public interest groups and Internet companies such as Amazon.com.
Most Republicans oppose the approach, arguing that heavy-handed government oversight could squelch investment in expanded broadband networks.
Wheeler said he planned to circulate his proposal among his fellow commissioners on Feb. 5, three weeks before they would vote on it.
The FCC normally releases some details about proposals before a vote, but the exact language typically is not made public until afterward.
FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said the agency had received the letter and was reviewing it.
The three congressmen, who chair committees or subcommittees that oversee the FCC, said net neutrality is too important an issue to follow that precedent.
"Releasing the text allows the public to, at the very least, have an informed opinion and ideally the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposal," they wrote.
Upton, Walden and Thune this week held hearings on net neutrality legislation that would make FCC action on the issue moot.
The bill would prohibit broadband firms from blocking websites, slowing connection speeds and charging companies for faster delivery of their content. But it would also prevent the FCC from treating broadband providers like phone companies and other regulated utilities.
Cable TV and wireless industry trade groups have backed the legislation. But key Democrats and net neutrality advocates have argued that it doesn't go far enough and would limit the FCC's ability to respond to future threats to the free flow of Internet traffic.
Noting the outpouring of public comments on net neutrality, the lawmakers told Wheeler he should provide more transparency.
"If there ever was an instance where such action would be appropriate, this should qualify," they wrote.
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