Lawmakers Deeply Disappointed FCCs Wheeler Wont Testify on Net Neutrality

Josh LongTwo Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday said they were “deeply disappointed” Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler had declined to testify ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled vote on Internet regulations.

“As Chairman Wheeler pushes forward with plans to regulate the Internet, he still refuses to directly answer growing concerns about how the rules were developed, how they are structured, and how they will stand up to judicial scrutiny,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Michigan), and Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), in a joint statement.

The Democrat-controlled FCC is expected to vote Thursday on whether to adopt Wheeler’s Net neutrality proposal. His draft order, circulated earlier this month to his colleagues, is intended to prevent broadband providers from slowing down, prioritizing or blocking Web traffic. Wheeler has recommended reclassifying broadband service as a telecommunications service.

With the FCC just a day away from a vote, a House communications subcommittee conducted a hearing Wednesday morning titled “The Uncertain Future of the Internet.” Because Wheeler refused to testify, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee postponed its scheduled hearing today, according to Upton and Chaffetz.

“So long as the chairman continues to insist on secrecy, we will continue calling for more transparency and accountability at the commission,” the lawmakers said. “Chairman Wheeler and the FCC are not above Congress. This fight continues as the future of the Internet is at stake.”

Republicans and some of the nation’s largest broadband providers oppose Wheeler’s proposal, contending it is burdensome and will result in uncertainty due to the inevitability of litigation. Ajit Pai, one of the two Republican commissioners, has criticized Wheeler’s proposal as a heavy-handed regulatory approach that would curtail investment in broadband networks and open the door to billions in broadband taxes.

On Monday, Pai and fellow Republican commission Michael O’Rielly requested FCC leadership delay …

… a vote on Net neutrality and release Wheeler’s 332-page draft order to the public so Americans could evaluate it for a minimum of 30 days.

“With the future of the entire Internet at stake, it is imperative that the FCC get this right. And to do that, we must live up to the highest standards of transparency,” Pai and O’Rielly said in a joint statement.

Consumer advocacy groups favor the proposed regulations. Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge, on Wednesday rejected criticism that regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 will inevitably burden Internet providers. Speaking during the House subcommittee hearing, he said the FCC can refrain from applying sections of Title II. The agency has said it plans to invoke its forbearance authority to spare ISPs of burdensome Title II regulations.

“Chairman Wheeler explicitly ruled out subjecting ISPs to rate regulation, and addressed concerns about the potential for immediate new fees resulting from the expansion of Universal Service contributions to broadband,” Kimmelman said in prepared testimony. “Chairman Wheeler’s proposal provides certainty for consumers, ISPs, edge providers, and investors.”

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