Tom Wheeler’s about-face

Tom Wheeler’s about-face

Last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his proposal to regulate the Internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Wheeler’s approach marks an abrupt departure from his previous position. An aide to Wheeler reassured us that “it’s not important where he was. It’s important where he is now.” I disagree. 

On April 29, 2014, Wheeler wrote in a blog post that the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision in Verizon v. FCC “laid out a blueprint for how the FCC could use Section 706” to regulate the Internet and that he “viewed the court’s ruling as an invitation that I intended to accept.” Wheeler added that he was “concerned that acting in a manner that ignores the Verizon court’s guidance, or opening an entirely new approach, invites delay that could tack on multiple years before there are Open Internet rules in place.” He clearly stated a preference to lean away from controversial Title II regulation. Last week, Wheeler announced that he supported Title II regulation.

ADVERTISEMENT

Why has an individual who referred to a court ruling for Internet regulation as a “blueprint” and an “invitation he intended to accept” done an about-face? What has happened between now and then? These are fair questions for the head of an independent agency. 

Wheeler penned an op-ed Thursday in which he explained that his evolving position was “rooted in long-standing regulatory principles, marketplace experience, and public input received over the last several months.” However, that same day, The Wall Street Journal detailed how the White House unduly influenced the FCC process. Aides R. David Edelman and Tom Power met behind closed doors with liberal Internet activists for months collecting comments. Their work culminated in President Obama’s Nov. 10, 2014, announcement encouraging the “independent” FCC to disregard the D.C. Circuit Court’s “blueprint” for Internet regulation. Just days prior to the announcement, the Journal reports that a top White House official visited the FCC to deliver the not-so-subtle message to a “blindsided” Wheeler. 

The FCC collected almost 4 million public comments over the course of several months. Unfortunately, this open process was meaningless if the opinions used to craft net neutrality rules were secretly gathered behind closed doors in a White House echo chamber. These allegations raise a question of great public importance about whether Wheeler was pressured by the administration to implement Title II regulations. There will be a cloud hanging over net neutrality rules until this issue is resolved.

On Feb. 26, the FCC will vote on whether to adopt what Commissioner Ajit Pai has termed “President Obama’s 332-page plan to regulate the Internet.” However, given the accusations of White House coercion raised by The Wall Street Journal, the vote should be postponed pending an investigation. 

The American people need to be reassured that Wheeler arrived at his proposal independently. The Internet cannot remain free and open if the rules that govern it were derived from a tainted process.

 

Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnBarr hearing marks first time Senate Judiciary has GOP women serving on panel Live coverage: Trump AG pick grilled on Mueller probe at confirmation hearing Overnight Defense: Appeals court sides with Trump on transgender military ban | Trump threatens years-long shutdown | Trump floats declaring national emergency to build wall with military MORE (R) has represented Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District since 2003. She sits on the Budget, and Energy and Commerce committees.