Republicans crowdsource questions for FCC chief

Republican leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are looking to the public for help on what to ask Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Wheeler is scheduled to testify before the panel’s Communications and Technology subcommittee on Tuesday. He’s likely to face questions on the commission’s plans to regulate the treatment of Internet traffic, repackage the nation’s airwaves for wireless companies and a scuttled controversial study on how newsrooms operate around the country.

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In case lawmakers miss anything, they want some help from the public.  

“For next week’s hearing, the public can ask FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler questions via Facebook and Twitter,” the committee said on Thursday.

The crowdsourcing effort follows a similar tactic from last year, when the panel reached out to the public ahead of a hearing with now-outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. That request led to more than 100 questions, the committee said, some of which were relayed to Sebelius.

Tuesday’s hearing with Wheeler comes at a critical time for the commission.

Wheeler’s proposal for new regulations on how Internet service providers treat online traffic advanced on a 3-2 vote on Thursday, but not without heated opposition from both sides of the aisle.

Some Democrats have worried that the net neutrality draft is too weak and would allow for service providers to create “fast lanes” for wealthier companies. Republicans, meanwhile, protested the notion of regulations for the Web, which they said amounted to government interference in the free flow of commerce.

The commission on Thursday also moved forward with plans for auctioning off valuable parts of the spectrum, which wireless companies need to stream data to cellphones and tablets.