On Thursday the FCC will vote on the future of the internet in the US, which also includes the future of internet radio in all its forms. The five commissioners will weigh in on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Open Internet proposal at the Commission’s February open meeting.
Yet, although Chairman Wheeler has released overviews and details, the full text of the actual proposal has not become public. It is not altogether unusual for this to happen with a final rule making proposal that comes after the public comment period. But the Open Internet is not your typical rule making proposal.
At least one lawmaker, House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, on Monday called on Wheeler to release the proposal, and to appear in front of his committee’s hearing on Wednesday. That hearing, incidentally, is on the topic of “Examining the Relationship Between the FCC and the White House.” (Can’t imagine why Wheeler wouldn’t want to attend that.)
The FCC’s two Republican commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly, also released a joint statement [PDF] asking Wheeler to make his proposal public and then delay the vote for 30 days.
It’s seems unlikely that Wheeler will heed these admonitions. On Monday he tweeted:
FCC received more than 4 million comments on #OpenInternet during past year that helped shape proposal. It’s time to act.
— Tom Wheeler (@TomWheelerFCC) February 23, 2015
Even if Pai and O’Reilly both vote “no” on Thursday, Wheeler will probably get the assent of his two fellow Democrats for a 3–2 win.
If that is the case, he’ll have the support of Death Cab for Cutie, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, the Kronos Quartet, and over ninety other musicians. They all signed an open letter to Wheeler, organized by the Future of Music Coalition, assuring him “we’ve got your back.” They go on to say, “We are sure that you probably don’t need to be reminded, but we’ll mention it anyway: there is a public interest imperative in preserving an open Internet and the creative sector is a huge part of this interest.”
There’s another House Committee hearing on Wednesday, too, which seems a little less designed to just beat on the president and the FCC. The House Communications and Technology Subcommittee is meeting on the topic of “The Uncertain Future of the Internet,” featuring presentations from witnesses on both the pro- and con- side of Wheeler.
Interestingly–but not surprisingly–the MapLight research organization, which tracks money in politics, reports that broadband internet providers gave on average 2.9 times more money to members of this subcommittee compared to the rest of the House. Republican subcommittee members received 3.1 times more than the rest of the House, and 38% more than their Democratic colleagues on the subcommittee. Rep. Greg Walden, R-OR, the subcommittee’s chairman, received $189,950 from broadband internet providers, which is 2.8 times the average given to all other committee members, and a full 8 times what was received by other House members. Walden’s take is second only to House Speaker Rep. John Boehner’s, R-OH, $195,375.
Walden and Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton, R-MI, have been vocal in their opposition to Wheeler’s Open Internet proposal. They are working on their own legislation that they say eschews “utility-style regulation,” also known as Title II, which Wheeler has embraced in his proposal. Though announced in January, that legislation has not been released yet, either.
Guess we’ll see what happens on Friday after all the dust settles.