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Republican Complaints About FCC Net Neutrality Plan Grow

Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai says the public is being "misled" about the net neutrality plan.

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Some Republicans who aren’t happy about Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed net neutrality rules are focusing on President Obama’s influence in the process.

Ajit Pai, a Republican FCC commissioner, said Tuesday that the American people are “being misled about President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet,” and called for the 332-page document to be released before the agency votes so everyone can see it.

Pai’s complaints echoed a broader Republican effort to try to derail the process or at least give FCC Democrats grief over approving it later this month.

Realistically, there’s little for Republicans to do except write angry tweets and send letters to the agency demanding more information. Even if Congress passed a resolution to overturn the rules, it’s unlikely they’d be able to gather enough Democratic votes to overcome a White House veto.

Wheeler, a Democrat, is likely to have the support of the agency’s other two Democratic commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn. Companies and interest groups trying to tweak Wheeler’s proposal are focusing on meetings with those two women and their aides in the final weeks before a vote, because they are the only ones right now who can actually get something changed in the final rules.

Last week, Republicans at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform launched an investigation into how FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler came to the decision to re-regulate Internet lines.

The Republican Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced Monday that he too would be examining whether the “White House may have inappropriately influenced the FCC to decision to regulate broadband like a public utility.”

In November, President Obama called for the FCC to re-regulate Internet lines under Title II of the Communications Act to ensure broadband providers can’t block, slow or create Internet fast-lanes.

Republican objections to FCC net neutrality rules have often been rooted in their distrust in the agency and, more generally, their dislike of more government regulations.

The FCC is an independent agency, but it is also a partisan one. Many of the issues the agency deals with — airwave auctions, broadcast indecency or cable access issues — aren’t political, but Republican and Democratic FCC commissioners regularly differ on how to approach them based on their political philosophies. Since the FCC chairman is appointed by the president, he is generally expected to share the White House’s views on how to regulate.

Pai offered a litany of worries to reporters Tuesday about what’s in the plan, from restrictions on sponsored data plans to possibilities of higher taxes for consumers. While he said he supports an open Internet and opposes allowing broadband providers to block or slow Internet traffic, he is “not a huge fan of the President’s plan to regulate the Internet.”

In response to Pai’s complaints, FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said in a emailed statement that “broadband providers are not the Internet: they simply provide access to it. The draft order ensures cable companies and broadband providers don’t have the power to act as gatekeepers to the Internet.”

Last week, Pai posed with his copy of Wheeler’s proposal.

https://twitter.com/AjitPaiFCC/status/563724099906568193

One of Wheeler’s aides, Gigi Sohn, clarified that the actual rules are only about eight pages and the rest of the document includes the agency’s response to comments received about the proposal.

Demand Progress, a left-leaning activist group, said Tuesday that Pai “represents everything that Americans hate about the way Washington works,” because he had worked as a lawyer at Verizon earlier in his career and was a “classic revolving-door operator.”

Since the net neutrality plan hasn’t been released publicly, it’s hard to tell if Pai’s complaints are mostly spin — an issue that also came up last week when Wheeler’s aides were describing the proposal.

The document hasn’t been made public because FCC rules bar agency officials from releasing any such documents before a vote. It’s a historic agency practice that has often frustrated interest groups, companies and reporters who cover the agency.

The agency is expected to vote on the net neutrality proposal February 26 and publicly release the results soon after.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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