On the day the Federal Communications Commission is poised to take a historic vote to reclassify the Internet as a public utility, a major victory for open-Internet advocates, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee had other ideas. He is bringing the five FCC commissioners before the committee in two weeks to ask them, more or less, what they were thinking.
The oversight hearing, set for March 18, “will allow me and my colleagues to directly question the chairman about the overreaching broadband order,” said Sen. John Thune at a Thursday National Journal LIVE event underwritten by Visa Inc.
The South Dakota Republican isn’t happy that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler promised the committee to look to Congress for Internet rules if the courts struck down an earlier net-neutrality rule, which it did last year. Now, Thune said, Wheeler is going in the opposite direction by directly imposing far-reaching regulations on a technology that is still evolving. “He turned on a dime,” Thune said.
“The real shame for Internet innovators is the missed opportunity to create bipartisan rules,” added Thune, who is also the No. 3 Republican in the Senate.
Thune is working with members of Congress in both parties to create a net-neutrality bill that would overrule the FCC. So far, Democrats are keeping their powder dry on that issue to see how the FCC’s regulation will play out. Two weeks ago, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid had this to say about classifying the Internet the same way that phone service is classified: “I’m for it.”