Senate Republicans join probe of Internet rules

Senate Republicans are questioning whether the White House exerted improper pressure on the Federal Communications Commission during its development of net neutrality rules. 

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler requesting all documents and communications between agency staff and the White House related to the Internet rules unveiled last week.

The letter asks Wheeler to answer a number of questions about the Obama administration’s influence on the independent agency during the rule-making. 

{mosads}”I am concerned that undue outside pressure may have led you to this decision. In particular, my concern is the apparent pressure exerted on you and your agency by the White House,” Johnson said in his letter to Wheeler.

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee made a similar request last week.  

Last week, Wheeler unveiled 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 authority used to enforce the rules is a departure from the FCC’s previous draft order last year, and mirrors recommendations from President Obama in November.

Obama made his plea for the stronger rules in a video released the Monday after the midterm elections.

After that message, Wheeler delayed the unveiling of new rules by a few months. While Wheeler has insisted the process was free from political interference, Republicans have accused the White House of “bullying” an independent agency.

“[The order] is a very large deviation from the previous proposal as well as the light regulatory touch applied to broadband services since the Clinton administration,” Johnson wrote in his letter. 

Johnson, like the Oversight Committee last week, cited a Wall Street Journal report that described the effort by a pair of White House staffers who helped build the administration’s case for stronger rules. The senator called the details “highly concerning.”

He said it brought up constitutional and other legal issues. 

Among the questions, Johnson asked why Wheeler changed his mind, why he delayed the order after Obama’s announcement, whether he knew about the White House effort and whether any FCC staff helped with it. 

He also asked for a list of meetings between the White House and the FCC on the issue and previous draft proposals. All the documents are due by Feb. 23, a few days before the FCC votes on the proposed rules.

Tags Federal Communications Commission Net neutrality Ron Johnson Title II Tom Wheeler White House

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