Senate panel to grill FCC on Internet rules

The Senate Commerce Committee is slated to grill all five Federal Communications Commission members during an oversight hearing on March 18, according to Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.).
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the four other commissioners will answer questions about the agency’s “over-reaching” net neutrality order expected to be approved Thursday on a 3-2 party-line vote. 
During a talk hosted by the National Journal, Thune left open the option of blocking the regulations through the appropriations process. He also said there would be interest in pushing a vote of disapproval. 
“We are going to keep all those options available, and I think a resolution of disapproval is something that there will be some interest in if in fact we can’t find some Democrats to work with us on this,” he said. 
Thune said, however, he still prefers to pass legislation that could override the commission’s plan, which will reclassify broadband Internet under authority governing traditional telephones, in order to enforce stronger rules. 
Republicans and Internet service providers have panned the regulations. Thune and his other colleagues have been working on a legislative approach to enact many of the net neutrality principles advocates have hoped for, while also scaling back some of the FCC’s authority. 
Democrats have largely balked at the Republican’s plan, but Thune expressed hope they would be more open to debate after the vote Thursday. 
“As stakeholders and lawmakers alike see the FCC proposal mired by legal challenges, it will become increasingly clear that a legislative proposal is the only way to ensure that protections go into effect quickly and survive any legal challenge,” Thune said. 
While his committee is in talks with Democrats in Congress, he lamented that he has “not found a willing partner at the FCC or the White House.”
The new rules would reclassify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service, a designation that gives the commission more authority to enforce its open Internet rules. The rules are meant to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing traffic to any website while also preventing companies from negotiating deals for priority access. 
Thune said he was disturbed by partisan nature of the rule-making process and accused Wheeler of capitulating to pressure from the public and the White House. 
“It looked like he was going down a path that was going to be more of a consensus and somewhere down the middle,” he said. “And when the president came out in November and said he wanted Title II reclassification, the chairman, you know, he turned on a dime.”
Tags FCC John Thune Net neutrality

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