FCC watchdog investigating Internet rules

The inspector general for the Federal Communications Commission has opened an investigation into the agency’s process for writing new rules for the Internet, according to the House Oversight Committee.

“It’s my understanding that it’s not an audit, not an inspection, but its an actual investigation,” committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzIRS chief blasts impeachment push in Chaffetz's home state Overnight Energy: Volkswagen faces another emissions lawsuit Fast and Furious: Are you listening Congress? MORE (R-Utah) said at the conclusion of a hearing with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

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Chaffetz’s office was told about the probe last week, an aide said, but the chairman himself was unaware of the action “until I walked up here.”

“I don’t have any other details,” Chaffetz told reporters afterward. “I just know that they’ve opened an investigation.”

Jay Keithley, an assistant inspector general, declined to comment to The Hill.

“It’s [Office of Inspector General] policy not to comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation,” he said in an email. 

News of the probe came after repeated congressional criticism that Wheeler had threatened the integrity of his independent agency by moving ahead with tough net neutrality regulations that treat broadband Internet like a public utility.

Wheeler had previously been leaning toward lighter regulations, but came under increasing pressure to change his tune over the last year. The public call for stronger rules peaked in November, when Obama released a well publicized YouTube video calling for the “strongest possible” rules.

Critics of the move said that it was a nakedly political ploy and accused Wheeler of bowing to Obama by changing course.

Supporters, meanwhile, say the new rules are critical to protecting online freedom and say Wheeler was merely responding to the surging public opinion in support of them over recent months.

Wheeler told Chaffetz on Tuesday that he was unaware of the investigation but would cooperate. An FCC spokeswoman declined to comment. 

This story was updated at 2:46 p.m.