FCC commissioner predicts battle over Obama proposal

Reclassifying broadband Internet as a public utility will spur a heated battle between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress, Republican commissioner Ajit Pai warned Friday. 

He also argued that treating the Internet like a utility, as President Obama proposed Monday, would impose hundreds of pages of unprecedented regulations on the Internet. 

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"We will embroil ourselves in years of litigation in the courts, and we will provoke a knock-down, drag-out fight with Congress," he said in prepared remarks during a speech in front of the Free State Foundation. 

It would be “naive” to believe Obama’s recommendation on net neutrality rules didn't change the debate around the issue, Pai said. But he reminded the audience the FCC is an independent agency. 

"We must base our decisions on the law as established by Congress and the facts contained in the record,” he said. “And the president’s announcement doesn’t change the law or the facts.”

Fellow FCC Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly also highlighted the independence of the agency. He said the FCC would not make a decision based on the views of any one person. Both Republicans are expected to vote against any new proposal. 

“The president has an important voice on this subject as do my former employers on Capitol Hill," he said during a speech following Pai. "I appreciate the administration's clarifying views and will consider them fully as we proceed." 

On Monday, Obama called to reclassify broadband as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act to enforce rules requiring all Internet traffic to be treated equally. 

The FCC has pushed back a vote to finalize any rules to next year. And Chairman Tom Wheeler is considering a number of options, including a hybrid proposal that would only partly rely on the authority Obama outlined. 

The authority Obama proposed is meant to prevent Internet providers from blocking or slowing service to any website, while also banning deals that would allow some to pay higher prices for faster speed, known as "fast lanes."

Advocates maintain that reclassification is the only way to ban these "fast lanes." But Pai and other opponents of the stronger rules have disagreed. Pai warned the regulations would lead to slower speed, higher prices and less investment. 

"Here’s the basic truth that everyone who labors in this legal vineyard knows: Title II doesn’t allow the FCC to ban so-called fast lanes," he said, noting that even Wheeler admitted as much during testimony in May.