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FCC denies GOP request for early release of Web rules

The Federal Communications Commission will not publicly release Internet regulations before they are voted on later this month. 

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler on Monday formally denied a request from congressional Republicans to release the text of those net neutrality rules when they are circulated among the commissioners later this week. 

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Releasing the draft rules early “runs contrary” to past FCC procedure under Democratic and Republican leadership, Wheeler asserted. 

“If decades of precedent are to be changed, the there must be an opportunity for thoughtful review in the lead up to any change,” Wheeler wrote in the letter to Republicans. 

The letter was addressed to Senate Commerce Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate GOP to face off over earmarks next week Biden outreach on infrastructure met with Republican skepticism McConnell seeks to end feud with Trump MORE (R-S.D.), House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOvernight Energy: Michigan reps reintroduce measure for national 'forever chemicals' standard |  White House says gas tax won't be part of infrastructure bill Mark Ruffalo joins bipartisan lawmakers in introducing chemical regulation bill Michigan reps reintroduce measure for national 'forever chemicals' standard MORE (R-Mich.) and House Communications and Technology subcommittee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenLobbying world Give Republicans the climate credit they deserve Fox hires former GOP lawmaker Greg Walden as political consultant MORE (R-Ore.). 

GOP leaders had pressed Wheeler to release the rules early, noting the increased public attention surrounding them. They specifically cited an existing FCC rule that would permit the early release. 

Wheeler is expected to circulate the rules among commissioners on Thursday, with a vote scheduled for Feb. 26. The FCC typically releases the broad details of orders early, but does not unveil the exact text until after a vote. The chairman described it as commonplace for federal agencies. 

He related the process to an appeals court deliberation, where judges are able to discuss the proposal in confidence before making a final decision. 

The text of the order is expected to be hundreds of pages. But the FCC is expected to release a fact sheet on Thursday and also brief reporters on the details of the plans.  

In his letter, Wheeler asserted the yearlong net neutrality rulemaking process has been one of the most transparent to date. He cited the numerous roundtables, the hundreds of meetings and the nearly 4 million public comments on the issue. 

The rules are expected to reclassify broadband Internet under regulations governing traditional telephones. The strict regulations are meant to enforce rules that would prevent Internet service providers from interfering with traffic to any website.

The rules are also expected to ban service providers from negotiating deals with websites for faster service in exchange for a fee. 

President Obama and other advocates have called for the reclassification, but Republicans and service providers have cautioned that the change could slow innovation by subjecting the Internet to an outdated regulatory framework.