House to probe whether White House improperly influenced FCC on net neutrality

A House oversight committee on Friday said it was launching a probe into whether the White House improperly influenced the FCC on its planned net neutrality rules. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R.-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Friday demanding all documents and communications between the FCC and the White House or other executive-branch agencies on the matter, along with all internal discussion at the FCC. 

President Barack Obama late last year urged the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act to implement net neutrality. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said last week he intended to do that in a draft proposal. Wheeler has said that starting last summer that he had started contemplating using Title II, before Obama's statement. The FCC is an independent agency. However, the Wall Street Journal reported last week that the White House steadily built up support for that approach by working with Web companies and startups, and left Wheeler with little choice but to embrace Title II. 

"[R]eports indicate that views expressed by the White House potentially had an improper influence on the development of the draft Open Internet Order circulated internally at the Commission on February 5, 2015," Chaffetz wrote. Neither the White House nor the FCC responded to requests for comment, according to the Journal

Earlier on Friday, FCC Special Counsel Gigi Sohn rejected the notion that the president's statement forced Wheeler to embrace Title II. "I think what the president's statement did was rather than force the chairman's hand was give him cover to do something that he already was thinking about doing," Sohn said during an interview on C-Span. Article (sub. req.)

Meanwhile, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans on the panel, complained that the draft order runs 332 pages and will not be publicly released until well after it is potentially approved. "The rollout earlier in the week was obviously intended to downplay the plan's massive intrusion into the Internet economy," he said in a statement on Friday. "Beginning next week, I look forward to sharing with the public key aspects of what this plan will actually do." Article