Passive Congressional Republicans Offer Little Push Back Against FCC’s ‘Net Neutering’ Power Grab

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana
AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is in Spain. He left on Monday, after he’d refused to appear before a Congressional committee last week prior to the agency’s 3-2 partisan vote that imposed 1930s style utility regulation on the Internet.

In a statement issued after the vote, Chairman Wheeler promised the FCC would regulate the internet “under a light-touch… like we propose today.”

But critics disagree.

“Chairman Wheeler’s claim of utility regulation of the internet being ‘light-touch’ regulation is akin to saying that the Spanish Inquisition was a polite interview process,” Dr. Michelle Connolly, professor of economics at Duke University and former chief economist at the FCC, told Breitbart News on Tuesday.

In a speech to CPAC on Thursday, Connolly called the FCC’s decision “net neutering,” a clear contrast to the “net neutrality” term used by its proponents.

Wheeler’s comments to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday did little to rebut Connolly’s critique.

“There’s nothing the day after the rules go into effect that offers a different revenue picture for Internet service providers. Go ahead, do what you want, as long as it’s just and reasonable,” Wheeler told the gathering of telecommunications industry executives.

But critics fear granting the highly partisan FCC the power to determine standards for “just and reasonable” would give the agency unlimited power to pick winners and losers in the internet industry.

“In short, because this Order imposes intrusive government regulations that won’t work to solve a problem that doesn’t exist using legal authority the FCC doesn’t have, I dissent.” Ajit Pai, one of two FCC Commissioners who voted against the rule, wrote in his dissent.

“Using 80-year-old telecommunications law, the Federal Communications Commission, under what appears to be direct orders from the President, announced far-reaching rules to govern the Internet, effectively turning it into a public utility,” Americans for Limited Government’s Rick Manning wrote.

“For those unfamiliar with the public utility concept, it is simple — the government guarantees a company a monopoly for providing services to a certain area in exchange for a guaranteed profit. If the regulated entity wants to make changes or increase prices they need to get approval from the government,” Manning wrote.

In effect, Manning said, the FCC’s net neutering decision amounts to yet another huge power grab by the Obama administration.

“While the FCC reportedly stopped short of creating a price-approval mechanism, that option remains for the future if Congress and the courts leave the Executive Branch power grab intact,” Manning concluded.

Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told HotAir’s Ed Morrissey that the FCC and the White House had kept the net neutering proposal “under lock and key” until the day of the vote, which she said would be known in the future as “the day the ObamaNet was born.”

In an interview with C-SPAN on Monday, Representative Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Technology and Communications Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that at least one unnamed FCC staffer had been quoted as saying the draft rule was developed in response to direct pressure from the White House.

The highly partisan and secretive nature of the rulemaking process is not surprising, given the political connections of the three Democratic commissioners. Chairman Wheeler is a well known fundraiser, and Mignon Clyburn, reportedly the most vocal commissioner in support of the new standards, is the daughter of powerful Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC).

Sources tell Breitbart News that this takeover of the internet was “baked-in” to the FCC process for a long time, and that the so-called public comments were merely “kabuki theater” designed to give Wheeler and the other Democratic commissioners political cover.

Wheeler, in fact, proudly tweeted that the commission had 4 million comments about the proposed rule just days before the vote was taken.

The Christian Science Monitor suggested that HBO’s John Oliver, the British comedian who rose to fame as a contributor at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, may have sparked a grassroots outcry for net neutrality:

“Yes, the guy who used to run the cable industry’s lobbying arm is now running the agency tasked with regulating it,” the Monitor reported Oliver as saying in June on his HBO program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

“That is the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo…. ‘Make sure they’re in bed by 8, there’s 20 bucks on the table for kibbles, so please don’t eat my baby.'” the Monitor quoted Oliver as saying, just before he “urged his viewers to contact the FCC.”

“Tens of thousands did, crashing the agency’s website and flooding it with comments the next few days, with millions more to come – the vast majority calling for net neutrality,” the Monitor reported.

But sources tell Breitbart News that any comments generated by Oliver’s comedic stylings merely gave the Democratic commissioners some cover to implement heavy-handed regulations the Obama administration had long been advocating.

To date, the response of Republican Congressional leaders to the FCC’s unprecedented power grab has been passive.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) told the National Journal that a Congressional a resolution of disapproval was one way Republicans might indicate their opposition to the FCC’s net neutering rule.

But he was unenthused about using the power of the purse to defund the FCC in order to prevent it from issuing the rule.

“Using the funding process could be another way [to express disapproval of the FCC decision,” Thune told the Journal.

“I don’t think we’re going to get into a DHS-type situation like this, but I do think that we could, by various riders on appropriations bills, attempt to send that message. So we’ll see—I’m not ruling anything out,” Thune said.

Despite Wheeler’s refusal to testify last week, Congress did little but exercise a strongly worded statement, and did not insist on Wheeler’s immediate appearance to explain.

In a joint statement issued a day before the Commission’s vote on Thursday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Energy Commerce and Committee Chairman Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) blasted Wheeler for refusing to testify before the House Oversight Committee:

“So long as the chairman continues to insist on secrecy, we will continue calling for more transparency and accountability at the commission. Chairman Wheeler and the FCC are not above Congress,” the statement read.

But Wheeler and his fellow Democratic commissioners paid no attention to the complaints of Republican Congressional leaders. No one outside the agency, with the possible exception of White House staffers and some select Silicon Valley insiders has yet seen the 300 plus page draft order in which the FCC voted to take control of the Internet.

The behind-the-scenes secrecy irritated Republican members of Congress. Representative Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the House Technology and Communications Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, called on FCC Chairman Wheeler to publicly release the draft order prior to Thursday’s vote, but a recalcitrant Wheeler refused to do so.

A spokesperson for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee told Breitbart News Chairman Wheeler is scheduled to testify before the commitee on March 17. “The FCC has told us that Mr. Wheeler will be there to testify,” the spokesperson said.

Similarly, Subcommittee Chairman Walden told C-SPAN on Monday that all of the FCC Commissioners are scheduled to testify before his subcommittee on March 19.That testimony is apparently designed to address a wide range of issues, not just the “net neutering” decision.

A spokesperson for the FCC confirmed that Wheeler has agreed to appear at Congressional hearings later this month.

The draft order outlining the FCC’s plan to take over the internet is likely to remain secret for some time.

The last time the FCC passed such a draft order–in 2010–the actual regulation was not published until ten months later. That regulation was subjected to more than two years of litigation before it become final.

Rep. Walden anticipates a similar timeline for publication of the “net neutering” draft rule, but Chairman Wheeler suggested a quicker timeline for publication of the draft rule.

“I hope it will be this week, but it’s out of my hands,” Wheeler told the New York Times.

Congressional Republicans apparently have a similar view of what can be done to stop the FCC’s internet power grab.

Judged by their passive responses, they appear to consider the outcome of this battle out of their hands as well.


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