Congress Is Probing White House Role In FCC Chief’s Net Neutrality Plan

Two congressional panels are looking into whether the White House improperly influenced a net-neutrality proposal by the FCC's chairman. Above, a Sept. 30 photo of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of one of the panels, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (PHOTO CREDIT: J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Two congressional panels are looking into whether the White House improperly influenced a net-neutrality proposal by the FCC’s chairman. Above, a Sept. 30 photo of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of one of the panels, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. (PHOTO CREDIT: J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Two congressional committees have launched investigations into whether the White House improperly influenced the net-neutrality proposal released last week by the head of the Federal Communications Commission.

On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a letter to explain his decision and produce documents related to communications and meetings involving the White House and agency officials concerning the issue.

Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told Wheeler he was concerned that there was “apparent pressure exerted on you and your agency by the White House.”

Last week, Wheeler proposed strict new federal oversight of online traffic to ensure Internet providers don’t give preference to video and other content from some websites over others.

Wheeler’s plan, circulated to his fellow commissioners ahead of a Feb. 26 vote, is much tougher than what he initially outlined early last year and closely follows the approach President Obama publicly called for in November.

“The FCC’s new position on net neutrality is not only a monumental shift from Chairman Wheeler’s original net-neutrality proposal but also a large deviation from the light regulatory touch applied to broadband services since the Clinton administration,” Johnson said in releasing the letter.

“The decision is wrong, and the process raises serious questions about the president’s inappropriate influence over what is supposed to be an independent agency that derives its authority from Congress and not the White House,” Johnson said.

His letter follows a similar one sent to Wheeler on Friday by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Most Republicans strongly oppose the FCC’s approach, which would put Internet service providers in the same classification as highly regulated telephone companies.

Although the president nominates the chairman and other FCC commissioners, the agency is independent and not supposed to be subject to White House control. Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the cable-TV and wireless industries and was a major fundraiser for Obama, who nominated him to head the FCC in 2013.

Republicans have charged that Obama unduly influenced Wheeler’s proposal. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wheeler “succumbed to the bully tactics of political activists and the president himself.”

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SOURCE: LA Times, Jim Puzzanghera

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