WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy on Wednesday called on the Federal Communications Commission to host hearings on its new proposed "net neutrality" rules outside of Washington, not just at its offices in the U.S. capital.
The FCC is working to write new so-called "net neutrality" rules that regulate how Internet service providers (ISPs) manage traffic on their networks. In January, a federal court struck down the agency's previous version.
More than 1 million comments have poured into the FCC on the issue, many of them opposing the rules tentatively proposed by the FCC. The proposed rules, while prohibiting ISPs from blocking any content, suggest allowing some "commercially reasonable" deals where content providers could pay ISPs to ensure smooth and fast delivery of their traffic.
The FCC is now planning six roundtable discussions in September and October at its offices in Washington, where the public can meet with FCC staff to talk about the proposed rules and how they may be changed.
Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, urged the FCC to also hold the roundtables in other parts of the country. The FCC has done so in the past on other controversial issues, such as changes to the rules restricting who can own how many and what kinds of media outlets in local markets.
"Most of (those who had commented on the proposed rules online) will not be able to come to Washington to participate in the roundtables that have been scheduled, but their voices are more important than industry lobbyists and members of Congress," Leahy wrote to Wheeler.
An FCC spokesman, however, said the public from across the country would be able to pose questions to those roundtables online along with those who attend in person.
"The roundtable events are designed to incorporate a wide range of views on this important topic, and they will be open to the public and streamed live online," the spokesman said.
The FCC is collecting public comments on the proposed net neutrality rules until Sept. 10. The agency has scheduled roundtables on various aspects of the rules on Sept. 16, Sept. 19, Oct. 2 and Oct. 7 in Washington.
Following an upwelling of protest against the proposed rules quickly launched by consumer advocates and some Internet companies, the FCC has sought to ensure it reviews the rules transparently. Last week, the agency began releasing all comments it had received from the public through email, mail and its online comment submission portal as a downloadable database for review and analysis.