Net neutrality takes spotlight at budget hearing

Net neutrality takes spotlight at budget hearing
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Disagreements between Federal Communication Commission commissioners over the FCC’s net neutrality rules flared up on Tuesday at a Senate appropriations hearing.

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Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai said he believed that the panel should not provide funds for the agency to implement the rules, which allow the commission to regulate Internet providers as a utility.

“The commission will spend a lot of money and time applying regulations that are wasteful and unnecessary and that are already proving harmful to the American public,” he said.

Pai also repeated his argument that the order allows the agency to regulate the rates companies can charge for services.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, also appeared before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, saying he hoped that someone would force the agency to confront the issue.

“Our goal is not to have rate regulation,” and the 201b interpretation that some people have said this gives us some kind of ex post authority, I would like to be able to make it clear that it is not a rate-regulation tool,” he said.

Wheeler demurred when asked whether the rule would allow the FCC to regulate the so-called interconnection rates Internet providers negotiate with the companies that run the backbone of the Internet.

The FCC chairman also declined to estimate the litigation costs associated with the net neutrality order. He said that any litigation would be handled by the agency internally, rather than by hiring an expensive outside appellate lawyer like former Solicitor General Theodore Olson.

The rules are expected to go through what could be years of court challenges.

Though Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanDemocrats, making a difference is better than making a point GOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown votes On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Ark.), the subcommittee’s chairman, expressed concern about the neutrality order in his opening remarks, the panel mostly focused on the agency’s budget request rather than the controversial order.

Both commissioners said that reforms are needed to the designated entity program, which critics contend allowed Dish to obtain discounts when buying wireless spectrum earlier this year by bidding through two smaller companies. Dish has said it believes it acted within the law.

But they disagreed on other topics.

“I’ve not been asked to participate in the development of this request, and I am unable to support it,” Pai said of the budget.

Pai said he did not think the agency should transfer $25 million from the Universal Service Fund, which helps fund broadband and phone services for underserved communities, to the agency's general budget to pay for oversight of the fund.

Senators also focused on the FCC’s plans to move to a new building, which Wheeler said would allow them to reduce costs over time while building out their infrastructure.