A Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday blasted President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet, saying it will lead to “utility-style regulation,” new taxes and less consumer choice.
Commissioner Arjit Pai also called on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to release the “secret” proposal to the public prior to the agency voting on it. Mr. Wheeler last week released an outline of strict new federal oversight of the Internet, a plan known to advocates as so-called “net neutrality,” but won’t reveal the text of the plan until the FCC’s meeting on Feb. 26.
“The American people are being misled about President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet,” Mr. Pai said. “Last week’s carefully managed rollout was designed to downplay the plans of a massive intrusion in the Internet economy. I have now read the 332-page plan. It is worse than I had imagined.”
He added, “The claim that President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet does not include rate regulation is flat-out false.”
Mr. Wheeler said the plan will declare broadband a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act, giving the FCC broad new regulatory powers. It’s a more intrusive proposal than Mr. Wheeler originally outlined last year, and it more closely follows guidelines endorsed by Mr. Obama last November.
That development has led two congressional committees to launch investigations into whether the president exerted his influence over the FCC, which is ostensibly an independent agency.
On Monday, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, asked Mr. Wheeler in a letter to turn over any documents related to communications and meetings involving the White House and agency officials.
Mr. Johnson told the FCC chair that he was concerned there was “apparent pressure exerted on you and your agency by the White House.” The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also is investigating the issue.
Mr. Pai, one of two Republicans on the five-member commission, said the president’s plan would give the FCC broad new powers and “explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes on broadband.” He also said the proposal could result in consumers losing services they currently enjoy.
By invoking Title II, Mr. Pai said, the FCC is giving itself the authority to determine whether prices are “just and reasonable.”
“The claim that President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet does not include rate regulation is flat-out false,” Pai said. “Indeed, the only limit on the FCC’s discretion to regulate rates is its own determination of whether rates are ‘just and reasonable,’ which isn’t much of a restriction at all.”
Other FCC officials said the proposal is similar to the agency’s rules governing cell-phone providers, and said the agency hasn’t tried to regulate prices in that industry. Mr. Wheeler has said the proposal will not impose any new taxes.
Borrowing an infamous complaint about Obamacare, Mr. Pai told reporters, “If you like your current service plan, you should be able to keep your current service plan. The FCC shouldn’t take it away from you.”
Protesters interrupted Mr. Pai’s news conference, accusing him of representing big corporate providers such as Comcast. Activists say the Wheeler plan is the only way the FCC can enact meaningful net-neutrality protections against providers blocking or slowing down online traffic.
Mr. Pai said FCC rules prohibit him from releasing the plan to the public, saying only the chairman can authorize its disclosure.
The president nominates FCC commissioners, but the agency is independent and not intended to answer to the White House. Mr. Obama nominated Mr. Wheeler to head the FCC in 2013, after he served as a campaign fundraiser for the president and worked as a lobbyist for the cable-TV and wireless industries.