Oversight to look for ‘improper’ WH influence over Internet rules

The House Oversight Committee is investigating if the White House had any “improper influence” on the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules unveiled this week. 

Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler requesting all staff communications with the White House and other executive branch agencies about the issue, as well as internal documents discussing the White House recommendations and visitor logs of any meetings with administration officials. 

{mosads}In a broader request, Chaffetz asked for all documents and communications from internal staff about the net neutrality rules since January 2014. That includes all draft and final versions of the orders. 

Chaffetz also advised Wheeler’s office and any other staffers working on the issue not to delete any documents, a signal more requests for information are possible.

“I am interested in hearing from the FCC on this matter, in particular how the FCC communicated with the White House and other Executive Branch agencies,” Chaffetz said. 

The move by the Oversight Committee comes days after the FCC detailed rules that would reclassify broadband Internet under regulations governing traditional telephones. The stricter regulations are meant to enforce rules that would prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing any Internet traffic, while also barring companies from negotiating deals for priority service. 

The rules largely mirror President Obama’s recommendations to the independent agency last year, calling for broadband to be treated like a public utility.

The FCC received millions of comments from outside advocates and members of the public endorsing the change.

In his letter, Chaffetz cited a Wall Street Journal report this week describing the effort by a pair of White House staffers who helped build the administration’s case for stronger rules. 

Republicans have blasted the Obama administration, claiming it bullied the independent agency and accusing Wheeler of bending to White House demands. FCC officials have downplayed the idea, saying Wheeler was tilting toward reclassification before Obama made his public recommendations. 

Gigi Sohn, a special counsel for Wheeler, on Thursday said Obama’s recommendations actually gave Wheeler cover to issue strong rules that he was already leaning toward. 

The White House did not comment on the letter. The FCC is reviewing it, an official said.

Tags Barack Obama Federal Communications Commission Jason Chaffetz Net neutrality Tom Wheeler White House

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