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Conservative FCC commissioners ask Wheeler to delay net neutrality vote

Conservative FCC commissioners ask Wheeler to delay net neutrality vote

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Days before the FCC's net neutrality vote, commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly are making a last-ditch effort to delay it. Today, the pair asked for chair Tom Wheeler to release his full proposal — currently available only to FCC staff — and wait at least 30 days for public comments to come in. That would mean tabling "Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet," which is currently set for a vote on February 26th. "With the future of the entire Internet at stake, it is imperative that the FCC get this right," write Pai and O'Rielly. "And to do that, we must live up to the highest standards of transparency."

To date, Wheeler has released a four-page fact sheet about his proposal, which would reclassify broadband internet under stricter and more utility-like laws. It's a dramatic and long-sought legal change, and like previous net neutrality votes, it's split the FCC down party lines. That's almost certainly going to tip the vote in Wheeler's favor: more liberal commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn have supported him in the past, while the conservative-leaning Pai and O'Rielly oppose virtually any form of net neutrality.

"Transparency and good process shouldn't be a partisan issue."

Pai, for his part, has called the new rules "worse than I had imagined" and accused supporters of misleading Americans about its nature. Specifically, he's criticized Wheeler for not releasing the whole plan publicly and taken issue with its length — in today's statement, he and O'Rielly refer to it as a "332-page internet regulation plan." FCC counsel Gigi Sohn, has said only eight of those pages actually create new rules, while the remaining portion presents legal justification and other background detail. But Pai and O'Rielly are still pushing for a formal release. "Transparency and good process shouldn't be a partisan issue," reads today's statement.

This is absolutely true. Conveniently, though, Pai and O'Rielly's request would push the net neutrality decision even further past its deadline — it was originally supposed to happen by the end of 2014. When Wheeler brought up his initial plan last year, Pai tried to delay that vote as well, citing "grave concerns." (He wasn't the only one concerned, but it's fairly clear that no amount of workshopping would make net neutrality regulation palatable.) Asking for a month-long waiting period right before the February vote would give Wheeler virtually no time to take comments and put net neutrality back on the docket for March. And the longer it's tabled, the more time Congress has to pass its own net neutrality rules, which would hamstring the FCC's regulatory ability.

It's unlikely, though, that this will amount to more than rhetoric: a few hours ago, in fact, Sohn tweeted that community broadband and net neutrality were on the agenda for Thursday. And as for Wheeler?