Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) says the Federal Communications Commission has "discouraged" Democrats on Capitol Hill from working with Republicans on net neutrality legislation – even as the legislation that Thune is proposing includes the same rules and restrictions as those contained in the FCC's proposal.
But when Thune was asked to name ways in which Democrats have been "discouraged" from working toward a legislative compromise, he said, "On that issue I would refer you to my staff."
When TheBlaze later posed the same question to a spokesman for Thune, he said, "An FCC source confirmed to the [Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation] that the agency had engaged Democrat members of Congress on the...draft legislation."
"I still think that they have approached this in a very political way and if you look at the statements that are being made by the Republican members of the commission, this is going to be a very partisan vote and issue where it could be very bipartisan if they would have allowed a legislative process to go forward and us to work with Democrats on Capitol Hill," Thune told TheBlaze in a phone interview Wednesday.
Thune, who is also the chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, has drafted legislation in support of many of the same ideas on which the FCC is set to vote February 26 – and which he has continually referred to as a "power grab."
Pressed on how his plan is different from that of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal, Thune said, "There's no new taxes or fees. There's no rate regulation. There's prohibition on blocking, throttling and paid prioritization, which are the things they have said they are most concerned about."
The FCC has defined “blocking” as alleged attempts by Internet broadband providers to prevent consumer access to legal content. "No throttling," the agency says, would prohibit broadband providers from affecting the flow of lawful Internet traffic and "paid prioritization” would make it unlawful for service providers to show favoritism to legal content or traffic.
Wheeler's proposal, which was formally introduced February 4, appears to consist of the very same rules and restrictions as those of which Thune wants.
““Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services," Wheeler wrote in an op-ed published by WIRED. “
FCC senior officials told reporters the same day of Wheeler's announcement that the chairman's proposal is not an attempt to regulate the Internet as a public utility because the independent agency does not intend to regulate rates or impose any new taxes or fees, which is also true of Thune's legislation.
According to FCC officials, Wheeler's order stops short of fully embracing Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 in three ways:
Broadband providers shall not be subject to tariffs or other form of rate approval, unbundling, or other forms of utility regulation.
Universal Service Contributions: the Order does not require broadband providers to contribute to the Universal Service Fund under Section 254.
The Order will not impose, suggest or authorize any new taxes or fees – there will be no automatic Universal Service fees applied and the congressional moratorium on Internet taxation applies to broadband.
Yet, Thune maintains what he is proposing is not the same thing as what the FCC chairman is recommending.
"The difference is clear, unambiguous...that we can put in statute and give direction to the FCC or give the FCC unbridled authority under the 1934 law to do whatever they want to do," Thune said.
Editor's note: This post has been updated to include comments from a Thune spokesman.
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