Some of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate want the Federal Communications Commission to delay its repeal of net neutrality rules until the public has a chance to review thousands of consumer complaints alleging rule violations.
Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Thursday to give stakeholders and the public time to comment on tens of thousands of complaints it didn’t release until after August’s deadline to comment on the repeal plan.
“Although the commission has undertaken an historic proceeding to undo the Open Internet Order, the FCC has failed to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to comment on the tens of thousands of filed complaints that directly shed light on proposed changes to existing net neutrality protections,” Sens. Al Franken of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey of Massachusetts wrote to Pai. “The public deserves an opportunity to review and analyze evidence that has a direct impact on the proceeding.”
Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of California signed the letter describing the 47,000 complaints, 1,500 ombudsperson documents and other materials as “valuable evidence.”
Those documents, posted on the agency’s website last week in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) in May “cut to the core of several questions posed by the commission, including whether there exists ‘evidence of actual harm to consumers sufficient to support maintaining [the rules],'” lawmakers wrote.
The FCC confirmed the existence of the complaints in July but didn’t start releasing the actual text of them until one day before the close of the deadline to comment of Pai’s plan to repeal the rules. Those complaints go back to 2015, when the rules were passed, and were filed by consumers against their internet service providers. The complaints were filed against Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and others, and accuse some of violating net neutrality rules against web traffic throttling and blocking.
They also include complaints about data caps, varying speeds falling below what customers pay for, privacy violations, billing charges, and more — many of which are not expressly addressed in the rules.
Lawmakers told Pai ignoring the complaints is tantamount to a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. The law says the FCC and other agencies cannot “promulgate rules on the basis of inadequate data, or on data that, [to a] critical degree, is known only to the agency.”
“[T]he commission has an obligation to consider all relevant data and be able to articulate a rational connection between the facts found and the choices made,” the letter reads.
Carmen Scurato, NHMC’s policy and legal affairs director, said in August the complaints “show that the FCC blatantly ignored the evidence that the agency had in its possession throughout its push to scrap the vital consumer protections established by the Open Internet Order.”
Senators asked Pai if the FCC analyzed the complaints, carrier and ombudsperson responses, if it plans to incorporate them in the proceeding’s record, and if it will issue a public notice on the complaints with its own window for public comment. They asked for answers by October 11.
The net neutrality repeal proceeding generated more than 22 million comments, more than any other federal rulemaking in history.
President Donald Trump’s newly Republican-controlled FCC is considering a repeal of net neutrality rules and the reclassification of internet providers as “common carriers,” a public utility designation shared by telephone providers. The classification subjects them to potentially tougher regulations designed to combat monopolies, like setting price caps.
Reclassification is the primary target of Pai’s repeal — he and other Republicans believe it deters investors from investing in broadband, since the threat of price regulation could mean diminishing returns. Less investment means slower growth to rural and underserved areas, which Pai considers the FCC’s top priority.