Republicans blast net neutrality ‘power grab’

The Federal Communications Commission is making a “power grab” by calling for the strongest ever net neutrality rules, according to a key senator.

“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,” Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOvernight Tech: Senate panel subpoenaed ex-Yahoo chief | Twitter gives all users 280 characters | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | EU wants tax answers from Apple Overnight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Former Yahoo CEO subpoenaed to appear before Congress MORE (R-S.D.) said in a statement on Wednesday.

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"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," he added.

Thune and others have accused the FCC of compromising its status as an independent agency by moving forward with tough Web rules similar to those called for by President Obama shortly after the November midterms.

They also fear that the FCC’s move to reclassify broadband Internet service so that it can be treated like a utility would stifle innovation and saddle consumers with new fees and taxes. Senior FCC officials have said that the new rules, which were announced on Wednesday, will not lead to new taxes and will be “flexible” enough for the 21st century.

Ahead of the new rules, congressional Republicans have aimed to write legislation that would address net neutrality advocates’ biggest issues but also limit the FCC’s authority in other ways. 

Democrats so far have declined to sign on, especially before the FCC votes on tougher rules. 

Without legislation explicitly backing its action, the new FCC regulations are practically assured of facing a court challenge. 

“Instead of ensuring net neutrality protections for Americans, [FCC Chairman Tom] Wheeler overestimates the FCC’s authority to re-write our nation’s communications laws — a responsibility tasked to Congress, not the FCC — and ignores the fact that his net neutrality rules almost certainly will be stuck in courts for years over questions of their legality,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteJuan Williams: The shame of Trump's enablers GOP bill would ban abortions when heartbeat is detected Overnight Regulation: GOP flexes power over consumer agency | Trump lets states expand drone use | Senate panel advances controversial EPA pick | House passes bill to curb 'sue-and-settle' regs MORE (R-Va.).

Republicans have also urged the agency to release to the public the hundreds of pages of regulatory text before the FCC votes on Feb. 26, which would be a breach in normal process. The FCC chairman has said he won't do that. 

“Folks, we’re talking about the future of the Internet here,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the head of the House subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said earlier on Wednesday.

“Likely just three commissioners at the FCC are about to decide the Internet’s future behind closed doors for no one to see, until long after the decisions are made,” he added. “That’s no way to conduct the people’s business.”

The FCC requires approval from a majority of its five commissioners to act on an item. Both Republicans are expected to oppose the new rules, leaving power in the hands of its three Democrats.