Republicans prepare to fight possible FCC net-neutrality push by year's end

Republicans are preparing to make things very difficult for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman if he tries to push ahead on net neutrality in December.

Chatter that the agency may move to create net-neutrality rules before year's end has put the GOP on high alert, crafting plans this week how it would oppose any such effort.

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Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) is preparing a letter, expected to go out Friday or Saturday, urging the FCC to back down, according to House aides.

The aides say they expect the letter to hit the traditional anti-net-neutrality notes: that there is no need to rush on rules for Internet lines and that there is no clear case for regulation. They also said they expect it to extol the growth of the broadband sector.

Barton, the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce panel, is a candidate to lead the committee in the next Congress.

Republicans are also speaking up individually to oppose the potential effort. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who wants to lead the committee if Barton's bid fails, issued a statement on Friday panning the possibility that net neutrality could come in December.

“Ramming through Internet regulations would ignore the will of a bipartisan majority of Congress and the American public," he said. "It would further impede economic growth and job creation."

The political calculus that might push the FCC to move in December is that Congress would be out of session and the Republicans would not yet have the House majority to immediately fight the effort.

Stearns suggested the timing is crafty.

"Since the December meeting agenda will be released next week when Congress is in recess, it appears that Chairman Genachowski is trying to slip it under the radar and hope no one notices,” he said, referring to the standard set of agency procedures.

FCC officials said this week they have heard rumors that net neutrality, a proposal delayed since last October, could be featured on the agency's December agenda; however, certainty and direct knowledge were scarce.

Jen Howard, the spokesperson for the chairman, would neither confirm nor deny the possibility. 

Telecom industry analysts also began saying this week that they think the commission seems "likely" to act.