With the last ditch in sight before the Feb. 26 vote on reclassifying Internet service providers as telecoms under Title II, minority FCC commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly have again asked agency chairman Tom Wheeler to delay the vote. The chairman's office signaled the vote was still on schedule and the chairman said it was time to act.
The commisioners want the chairman to release the 332-page draft order -- a request Pai has made before -- and give "the American people" at least 30 days to study it.
Pai and O'Rielly said if the FCC does that, then takes more time to vet those new comments, it could proceed to a final vote--that would likely mean a dealy of two or three months. They say new comments are needed given that the proposal is "dramatically different" from the chairman's May 2014 proposal, which did not rely on Title II but instead on a commercially reasonable standard under Sec. 706 authority.
"With the future of the entire Internet at stake, it is imperative that the FCC get this right," they said in a joint statement. "And to do that, we must live up to the highest standards of transparency. Transparency is particularly important here because the plan in front of us right now is so drastically different than the proposal the FCC adopted and put out for public comment last May."
Pai and O'Rielly cited a study last week that found that 79% of respondents favored releasing the plan prior to the vote.
Wheeler declined a request by Hill Republicans to publish the draft before the vote (Some Republican legislators also wanted the vote delayed.) He said that was not regular process. He did release an outline of the draft, but the Republicans have suggested the devil is in the details to the 332-page document.
In a tweet following the statement by Pai and O'Rielly, Wheeler said: "FCC received more than 4 million comments on #OpenInternet during past year that helped shape proposal. It’s time to act."
In their last-ditch effort, Pai and O'Rielly invoked Democratic commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein from 2003, when they called for a delay on a vote on new deregulatory media ownership rule changes and a public airing of the proposal; they did not get it. "Their words then echo now," the commissioners said, quoting: "'A public airing would make for better policies. It would make for better buy-in from the American people.' ”
In his tweet following the statement by Pai and O'Rielly, Copps, who is heading Common Cause's Media Democracy Initiative, said the commissioners were "way off base" comparing the "depth of record" supporting a Title II approach with the "vacuous" media ownership decision in 2003 that was rejected by the court (Third Circuit Court of Appeals) as "totally inadequate."
“The FCC has received unprecedented levels of public comment on a variety of options for Open Internet rules over the past year through an open and transparent proceeding, producing a record of more than 4 million comments," said Kim Hart, press secretary to chairman Wheeler. "In accordance with long-standing FCC process followed in both Democratic and Republican administrations, Chairman Wheeler circulated his proposal to his fellow Commissioners for review three weeks before the scheduled vote. The Chairman has seriously considered all input he has received on this important matter, including feedback from his FCC colleagues.”