House and Senate committees are demanding answers to questions about what role the Obama administration had in the development of "net neutrality" rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Specifically, they want to know whether the Obama administration may have used improper influence to push the FCC – which is supposed to function as an independent body – to enact sweeping new regulations over the Internet, The Hill reported
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Senate Homeland Security Chairman Chairman Ron Johnson have sent letters to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler this month seeking documents, visitor's logs and communications in an effort to learn if the White House used undue influence in an effort to skew the rule-making process in favor of more intrusive regulation.
Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, did not rule out holding hearings or calling White House officials to testify before his committee if necessary.
"I think there's enough smoke here that it's really worth looking at," Chaffetz told The Hill. "And we'll let the facts dictate where we go. But we are going to look at it with a skeptical eye and see what the documents demonstrate."
If the commission provides documents that are "shallow and incomplete, we will ratchet it up in a hurry," Chaffetz said.
In his letter
, Johnson pointed to a Feb. 4 Wall Street Journal story which said President Obama's public effort to "prod" the FCC to mandate a new rule imposing net neutrality "came after an unusual, secretive effort inside the White House, led by two aides who built a case for the principle known as 'net neutrality' through dozens of meetings with online activists, Web startups and traditional telecommunications companies."
The Journal reported
that in November the White House's top economic adviser "dropped by" the Federal Communications Commission with a heads-up for Wheeler, informing him that Obama was ready to unveil his vision for regulating high-speed Internet traffic.
The specifics came in an announcement – delivered less than a week after huge Democrat Party losses in midterm elections – in which Obama declared that the Internet needed to be regulated as a public utility. He called for the "strongest possible rules"
barring broadband providers like Verizon Communications and AT&T Inc. from offering enhanced services to consumers willing to pay more.
Obama's words "swept aside more than a decade of light-touch regulation of the Internet and months of work by Mr. Wheeler toward a compromise," the Journal reported.
Two days later, Wheeler "lined up behind" Obama's position, the Journal noted.
Gigi Sohn, a special counsel for Wheeler, has said Obama's statement actually gave Wheeler cover to charge toward a plan he was already considering.
She compared Wheeler's evolution on net neutrality to that of Obama on gay marriage. Her words ironically came a few days before reports that Obama might not have been totally forthright about his evolution on the issue, The Hill reported
"I find the fascination with the chairman's evolution kind of interesting, because nobody talks about how the president evolved on gay marriage anymore, right?" Sohn said. "It's not important where he was. It's important where he is now."
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