Public ‘being misled’ on net neutrality?

The government is giving itself more power to regulate the Internet than it is letting on, according to one member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Ajit Pai — one of the two Republicans on the FCC — railed against Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to enact net neutrality rules that treat the Internet like a utility on Tuesday, arguing that conservatives’ biggest fears about the proposals are justified.

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“It is worse than I imagined,” Pai told reporters.

“The American people are being misled about President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet.”

While the plan is being pushed by Wheeler, the FCC head has come under intense criticism from Republicans for largely answering the call from Obama, who publicly backed similar Web rules mere days after last year’s midterm elections.

Not only would the chairman’s net neutrality plan give the FCC broad new powers to police the rates that broadband Internet companies charge consumers, Pai warned, it could also eliminate popular business strategies such as mobile plans that exempt some services from a users’ data cap. The plan also “explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes," he said, contrary to supporters' claims that it would do no such thing.

In keeping with its normal procedure, the FCC has said it will keep the 332 pages of rule text secret until after the commission votes on them later this month. Only 8 of those pages are actual regulatory text, while another 79 pages outline how the law will be applied and the rest are responses to public comments on an initial draft.

The agency has come under increasing pressure for its secrecy, especially since the controversial net neutrality rules differ greater from an initial proposal put out last year. Key leaders in Congress have urged the FCC chairman to release the text of his rules before the commission’s Feb. 26 vote, but Wheeler has said denied that request, which he said would run contrary to decades of administrative procedure.  

“We should be able to have an open and transparent debate to see the president’s plan,” Pai said.

Despite his concern, however, Pai said he would himself not release the text of the rule early, because it has not been authorized by the chairman. Michael O’Rielly, the other GOP commissioner on the five-member FCC, has previously made a similar comment.

Supporters of strong net neutrality rules have vocally opposed Republican efforts to weaken or block the FCC from enacting tough regulations. Advocates made a concerted attempt on Tuesday to undercut Pai's claims about the new plan. 

During Tuesday’s press conference, two activists loudly interrupted Pai’s remarks, while accusing him of being a shill for major cable companies.

“We don’t want a monopoly; we want the people to have the representation they need,” one yelled, security wrestling him to the ground. The protesters were eventually taken out of the building. 

--This report was updated at 3:49 p.m.