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Top Republican blasts new FCC net neutrality proposal as a "power grab"

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A top Republican in Congress is blasting FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposed network neutrality regulations.

"Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to regulate the Internet as a public utility is not about net neutrality," says John Thune (R-SD), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, in an emailed statement Wednesday. "It is a power grab for the federal government by the chairman of a supposedly independent agency who finally succumbed to the bully tactics of political activists and the president himself."

Republican leaders have traditionally been skeptical of the need for any network neutrality regulation. But as it became clear Wheeler was preparing to declare internet access a public utility — a move critics say would open it up to burdensome and outmoded regulation — they've made a tactical retreat.

Thune, along with his House counterpart Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), have proposed legislation that they say will protect network neutrality while protecting the internet from excessive regulation.

Thune's line about "bully tactics" is apparently a reference to last year's grassroots lobbying campaign in favor of treating internet access as a public utility. Activists bombarded the agency with letters urging Wheeler to adopt stronger rules. President Barack Obama joined them in calling for stronger rules in November.

"Regulating the Internet through ill-suited and antiquated authorities that were designed for the monopoly phone era will ultimately make the Internet more rigid and less innovative," Thune argues.

Thune says he's looking for a compromise, but Democrats haven't cooperated. "Despite my repeated attempts to engage Chairman Wheeler and President Obama in a constructive dialogue, neither have stepped forward to work with Congress," Thune writes.

Correction: I originally described Thune as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee rather than the Senate Commerce Committee.