Feds acknowledge power to act on Web rates

Federal regulators on Wednesday acknowledged that new net neutrality regulations could allow the government to interfere with how much companies charge for Internet service.

The admission from Democrats on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will come as a vindication to critics of the new Internet rules, who have long warned that the agency’s powers will give it unprecedented control over the Web.  

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While the rules themselves don’t set any limits on what companies can and cannot charge, they do allow people to come to the FCC with any action they feel is not “just and reasonable.”

That could include overly high rates, commissioners said during questiong in a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

“We have an obligation, I believe, to look at any complaint, anything filed before us, and make that decision accordingly,” said Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

“We don’t have such a case before us right now,” added Jessica Rosenworcel, a fellow Democratic commissioner. “But I think it’s a matter of due process that any provider... has the opportunity to come to the commission and seek resolution."

For Republicans, the claims are likely to be additional ammunition for their criticism about the rues.

Opponents have repeatedly claimed that the new regulations amount to the government inserting a heavy hand into the private marketplace, which could open the door to new taxes, lower investment and rate regulation, among other concerns.

“If a case is brought forward, it strikes me at least that the FCC has an obligation to respond,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOn The Money: Congress, White House aim to include debt limit increase in spending deal | McConnell optimistic budget deal near | Carson defends HUD eviction plan | Senate votes to undo tax hike on Gold Star families Congress, White House indicate debt limit increase will be part of spending deal Hillicon Valley: Trump takes flak for not joining anti-extremism pact | Phone carriers largely end sharing of location data | Huawei pushes back on ban | Florida lawmakers demand to learn counties hacked by Russians | Feds bust 0M cybercrime group MORE (R-S.D.), the head of the Senate panel.

Still, Clyburn said that any action to act on company rates would have to meet an “extremely high” bar, judging by the FCC’s history.

Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chairman, insisted that the standard allowed it to take action “on a case-by-case basis” that was necessary to provide a light-touch regulatory framework.