The FCC Bickers As Its Net Neutrality Vote Looms

It’s go time at the FCC, which is set to vote on new net neutrality regulations on February 26.

Today, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai held a press conference during which he repeatedly dinged the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler for not releasing the more than 300-page proposal in question ahead of the vote. The proposal contains just eight pages of regulation; the rest discusses legal underpinnings and response to public comment. (You can watch the full confab here.)

Regarding the length of the document, a top FCC lawyer added a bit of context to the Scary Sounding Number:

Chairman Wheeler has not authorized the release of the document. Pai, as a result, cannot release it. He cites FCC rules indicating that unless Wheeler authorizes the document’s release, he is not allowed to do so. So Wheeler wants to keep the thing secret until after the vote. That almost sounds duplicitous, doesn’t it?

The FCC’s precedent, as it turns out, is to not release the full text of a proposal before it is voted on. I confirmed that with the agency itself. If Chairman Wheeler is being potentially opaque, at least he’s not the first to do so.

And it’s worth noting that his choice to follow precedent is not a surprise in any case, since he said a month ago that precedent would be followed in this specific case [FCC transcription]:

Oh, no, what I was saying was that the precedent here, through Democratic and Republican Chairman, has always been that just like, you know, in the court system, and elsewhere that when you’re handling cases like this, you have an internal discussion and then you release what the result of that vote is.

And you don’t change that decades of precedent overnight without following the procedures to review questions like that.

So there’s that. I sent Commissioner Pai an email about the point. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

At the risk of being wrong on the record, I’d venture the following guesses: Chairman Wheeler has the votes to pass his plan. That leaves the two Republican commissioners at an impasse: With no direct leverage to change the plan, their options decrease dramatically.

What’s left? Hold a press conference to call Wheeler’s plan the president’s, imply that the independent regulator is the executive’s lap dog, and score cheap points by demanding something that would break historical precedent.

Watching politics is a pretty efficient way to wither your soul.