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FCC Critics Try to Whip Up Internet Access Panic Ahead of Net Neutrality Vote

Opposition to government plan warns of price hikes, other negative repercussions if regulation plan passes

Critics of the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s net neutrality plan are mounting a fierce last-minute pushback as the commission’s Thursday vote approaches, even as supporters are ready to celebrate victory.

In congressional hearings, speeches, op-eds and media interviews the critics are warning of Web price hikes ahead, a drawn-out legal fight and hinting the vote could have long-term negative repercussions for the agency.

“The government will fu*k the Internet up,” billionaire investor Mark Cuban said last week at a Code/Media conference in Laguna Niguel, California.

The critics are targeting not only Wheeler, but President Obama, who they blame for pushing Wheeler into making a controversial choice of regulating Web connections as utilities to bolster the FCC’s ability to fend off any court challenges. Obama has argued that only resorting to utility-era rules gives the agency the legal clout to prevent Internet service providers from creating a fast lane for favored content providers. Critics have argued that the move turns back the clock toward another era of phone regulation and will harm Internet investment and screw up the Web.

While the criticism has been vociferous in Washington, D.C., it hasn’t been quite as strong as that from outside Washington, as with Cuban’s comments.

In Washington, the stepped-up criticism is directed at the net neutrality decision itself, Wheeler’s unwillingness to fully detail his final proposal before the FCC’s vote and President Obama’s support of the plan.

A spokesman for FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of the two Republicans opposing the proposal told TheWrap, the commissioner feels the proposal is “President Obama’s Plan.”

“Commissioner Pai strongly believes that the American people should be able to see President Obama’s 332-page plan to regulate the Internet before the FCC’s vote,” said the spokesman. “It is important for consumers to know how President Obama’s plan will raise prices, slow broadband speeds and reduce competition in the marketplace.”

On Monday Pai and the FCC’s other GOP commissioner, Mike O’Reilly urged the commission delay a vote until Wheeler’s final proposal is released publicly.

“With the future of the entire Internet at stake, it is imperative that the FCC get this right,” said the statement.

Republican legislators have scheduled a hearing and speeches and sent letters demanding FCC documents. They’ve also called for Congress to enact legislation to settle the fight.

On Wednesday, the telecom panel of the House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing titled “The Uncertain Future of the Internet.”

“The closer we get to the FCC rubber-stamping President Obama’s Internet grab, the more disturbing it becomes,” said the panel’s chairman Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., in announcing the hearing. “Consumers, innovators and job creators all stand to lose from this misguided approach.”

The full committee citing the net neutrality vote and other FCC actions has demanded that Wheeler turn over all documents about how the FCC chooses what to consider for action and whether to do so in a commission vote or through staff action.

In the Senate, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., has scheduled a talk Thursday hours before the FCC votes to decry the FCC action.

Critics suggest that the stepped-up criticism reflects their belief that the FCC debate won’t end with the FCC vote.

“The FCC vote is only the end of the beginning,” Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, a group opposed to the FCC action, told TheWrap. “The next chapter is litigation or legislation. It is a mistake to think it is a done deal.”

Net Neutrality supporters aren’t sitting still, even though they believe Wheeler safely has the three Democratic commissioners on board. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.; Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; and others all have press conferences scheduled.

On Monday, the Future of Music Coalition sent a letter to Wheeler urging that he move forward. The letter was signed by R.E.M., Death Cab For Cutie, Kathleen Hanna, Jeff & Spencer Tweedy, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, OK Go, Joe Perry, Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, Jasiri X, The New Pornographers, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Jeff Mangum & Astra Taylor of Neutral Milk Hotel, Kronos Quartet and others.

Watch Cuban’s comments at the Code/Media conference below or here.

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