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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

 8:06 AM 

Column: FCC reversal on net neutrality sparks probe

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Sen. Ron Johnson is following his House counterpart's lead in questioning whether the White House forced the FCC to change its proposed rule regulating broadband Internet access.

Johnson, in his role as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, penned a letter Monday to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler requesting communications between the regulatory agency and the White House regarding the rulemaking process. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah wrote a similar letter seeking much the same documentation last week.

"I request your assistance in better understanding whether the White House and the FCC respected the proper boundaries established by Congress between the executive branch and independent agencies," Johnson, R-Oshkosh, wrote.

Last week the FCC said it would regulate the Internet like a utility to implement "net neutrality," a policy that prevents Internet service providers from favoring content or the speed with which it is delivered from companies that offer to pay more for superior or exclusive delivery. In addition to banning sweetheart deals, which would extend to mobile devices, the agency would get authority over agreements struck between service providers and content providers, such as Netflix, designed to alleviate network congestion.

"I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC," Wheeler wrote in a Wired magazine op-ed unveiling the proposal. "These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply--for the first time ever--those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.

"My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone's permission," the one-time telecom lobbyist wrote.

In November President Barack Obama made the case for net neutrality. Shortly after, Wheeler delayed the proposal's rollout. The draft rule goes in the opposite direction of one proposed last year, leading Republicans to accuse the administration of strong-arming the independent agency.

"Not only is this a monumental shift from the 2010 FCC order, but it is a very large deviation from the previous proposal as well as the light regulatory touch applied to broadband services since the Clinton administration," Johnson wrote.

Johnson asked Wheeler why he changed his mind and about the proposal's timing. He also asked to see the draft as it stood before Obama weighed in on the matter and for call, email and meeting logs of any discussions or meetings about the issue between the administration and the FCC. He set a deadline of Feb. 23 to provide the requested documents.

The five-person FCC board is slated to vote on the proposal Feb. 26.

Generally speaking, support for net neutrality splits along party lines with Democrats mostly supporting the policy and the bulk of Republicans opposing it. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, is the only member of the Wisconsin delegation to opine about the proposal so far, tweeting "#NetNeutrality‪ is the heart of an accessible & #OpenInternet. Glad to see @TomWheelerFCCembrace #TitleII authority" the day Wheeler laid out the proposal.

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


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