Senate Dem: FCC chief may have violated law in net neutrality rollout

Senate Dem: FCC chief may have violated law in net neutrality rollout
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Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on Tuesday said the way that Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai introduced his plan to roll back net neutrality may have skirted the law.

“He sounded more like a political person taking a political position than someone who was going to really inquiry into the best path forward,” Schatz told reporters. “I think it is legally consequential.”

The Hawaii senator, who is the ranking member of the subcommittee on communications and technology, said the FCC chairman may have violated a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPRM) statute by appearing to take a clear position on a proposal that hasn't even been considered. The statute states that the FCC must first consider public comment before taking a specific position on a policy.

“They are supposed to receive public comment. They are supposed to establish a public record,” Schatz said. “You would never have anybody in judiciary announcing their position, declaring that they will ‘win in the end,’ that ‘this is a fight and they intend to win it.’ "

When Pai introduced his proposal to significantly scale back on Obama-era net neutrality rules, he closed his speech by saying, “Make no mistake about it: this is a fight that we intend to wage and it is a fight that we are going to win."

An FCC spokesperson defended Pai's comments in a statement emailed to The Hill.

“Like Chairman Wheeler before him and all others in FCC leadership, the law is clear that Chairman Pai can express his opinion and speak out in favor of his proposed approach to ensuring Internet Freedom," said the spokesperson. "As Chairman Pai made clear in his speech, he intends to seek public input on his proposal and that 'this will be the beginning of the discussion, not the end.'"

Schatz did note that his contention was preliminary and that he was still conducting his own analysis on the issue, and encouraged pro-net neutrality advocacy groups to launch their own inquiries.  

“It’s for others in the litigation space to figure out whether there’s something there or not. But the fact that he is announcing the outcome in advance seems contrary to the statute.”

This story was update at 5:08 p.m. on May 3.