Congressional Republicans have aggressively sought to block the rules that would preserve the open Internet, which passed on a party-line vote earlier this year. They question the legality of the rulemaking, arguing that an agency comprising unelected officials should not have so much power over an essential component of American commerce. They also question the White House’s involvement in the decision by the independent agency.
This opposition has been on full display in recent weeks, from a string of contentious Congressional hearings with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to a recent order to reverse the agency’s decision.
The bill drafts introduced by the House Energy and Commerce Committee today are a largely symbolic display from the right. Although it’s possible these bills could pass in the House, it’s unlikely they would clear the Senate where the Republicans hold only a slim majority. If they were to make it to the White House, President Obama is sure to veto them. He came out as a strong supporter of net neutrality last fall.
Like the bill we saw from Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia last week, these bills are not aimed specifically at net neutrality, but rather at the transparency of the FCC. The drafts tackle this in three different ways.
The bill draft introduced by Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois calls the FCC to publish the rules it will vote on at the same time they are distributed to the FCC commissioners, at least three weeks before the vote occurs.
Although such a measure could be positive in increasing government transparency, as we have seen with the net neutrality push, the FCC already has a complex and lengthy system in place it uses to collect input from the public on its rulemaking. Adding transparency stipulations would likely slow down the agency’s processes even more and also subject the commissioners to further political influence.
Recently the FCC has made headlines with the issue of net neutrality, but the commission votes on many matters that receive far less public scrutiny. It doesn’t make sense to add excess roadblocks to its voting process because of a controversial rulemaking on one of the many issues the agency addresses.
The second proposal, from Rep. Renee Ellmers, would similarly require the agency to publish changes to rules within a day after they’re approved. This also connects to the debate over net neutrality. It took several weeks for the full rulemaking to be released to the public after the FCC’s historic vote. That time was needed to make technical edits to the rulemaking so that it would be able to stand up against inevitable lawsuits.
At the time, Republicans argued an exception should be made to this traditional process because net neutrality was a landmark issue. But that gets at the very problem with these lawsuits — net neutrality is an exceptional issue for the FCC. The agency’s processes should not be changed for all cases it considers based on the open Internet ruling. According to The Hill, Wheeler said 90 percent of the commission’s votes are unanimous.
The final proposal from Rep. Bob Latta would require the agency to be more transparent when it delegates work. In the wake of Congressional inquiry, the FCC has already launched a review of its internal processes.
The proposals come as net neutrality continues to be beleaguered by telecom industry lawsuits. With the CenturyLink suit, the total number of lawsuits against the order stands at seven. Those suits are likely to pose more of a threat to net neutrality than the hot air in Congress.