Dems rush to applaud FCC Internet rules

Democrats on Capitol Hill swiftly applauded Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler for drafting what he described as "the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed."

Multiple Democrats and outside advocates issued laudatory statements Wednesday minutes after Wheeler's op-ed in Wired went live announcing a proposal to reclassify the Internet as a public utility and enforce strict net neutrality rules.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif), ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Subcommittee on Technology and Communications said the rules are a "triumph for the American consumer."

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Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Your tax dollars fund Afghan child rape MORE (D-Vt.) called the rules a "victory for the Internet," while Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Lobbying world MORE (D-Ore.) pushed the entire FCC to "adopt this proposal and ensure that monopolies are never allowed to slam the door on American innovation.”

The commission, made up of three Democrats and two Republicans, is expected to vote on the proposal Feb. 26. Observers predict a 3-2 vote, as both Republicans have previously expressed objections to the stronger rules.

Wheeler on Wednesday announced what many had expected for weeks — that he would propose reclassifying the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act. The rules, which would apply to mobile and fixed broadband, are meant to prevent Internet providers from slowing or blocking traffic to any website.

The rules would also prevent companies from negotiating deals for faster service in exchange for a fee.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) noted the "U-Turn" the commission made since releasing a draft proposal last year. Advocates were initially upset with the draft, which recommended using an alternate authority that would have allowed "commercially reasonable" fast-lane deals.

Wheeler announced he is also proposing a "general conduct rule" to give the FCC authority to prevent future threats to the Internet.

The left-leaning consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge said Wheeler did not make the choice lightly, applauding him for adapting to public concerns. But the group said it would need to see the text of the order, which is not expected to be released until after a vote.

“Of course we look forward to seeing the actual language of the rules before fully evaluating their strength and impact, but we are very encouraged by the Chairman’s announcement today," said Chris Lewis, the group's head of government affairs.

Republicans and service providers like Comcast and Verizon, who have argued against the proposal, were slower out with reaction.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteRosenstein to testify before House Judiciary Committee next week Conservative pressure on Sessions grows Clock ticking down on NSA surveillance powers MORE (R-Va.) cautioned the FCC has overstepped "to rewrite" communications law, which he said is the task of Congress. He urged the FCC to use antitrust laws to enforce net neutrality principles. 

"Wheeler’s approach would squelch investment in one of the most dynamic and competitive marketplaces in history and lock net neutrality protection in the courts without reaching Americans now or anytime in the near future," he said in a statement. 

The office of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) highlighted his comments from a day earlier, that the rules would surely be challenged in court.

"If the FCC goes down this path, it gets challenged, it ends up in court [and] it chills investment," Thune told USA Today. "So it not only hurts innovation and investment ... but it also clouds the picture for the future."

Those concerns were echoed by others.

"It is unfortunate to see the Commission forging ahead with an Order so fraught with legal challenges and political opposition while Congress is actively looking for a compromise that will put open Internet regulations on firm footing," the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation said in a statement, relating the rules to "European-style" regulations.