Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, this week released a report titled, “Regulating the Internet: How the White House Bowled Over FCC Independence.” The report documents problems in the process by which the agency arrived at the controversial net neutrality order, which is currently being litigated in federal court. Senator Johnson stated, “This investigation has convinced me that the White House overrode the FCC’s decision-making apparatus.”
In 2014, after previously being overruled in court, the FCC had an open proceeding in which it was again considering how it might issue successful net neutrality regulations. NRB submitted public comments in this rulemaking process urging against any heavy-handed government action. Rather, NRB advocated respect for “free speech, free exercise of religion, and a free press for citizen user-generated content” and “free enterprise innovation regarding Internet services, applications, and devices.”
However, shortly after the 2014 elections and just before a state visit to China, President Barack Obama released a statement urging the FCC to “implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.” In particular, he urged the Commission to unilaterally assert authority over Internet providers under Title II of the Communications Act, which allows for the regulation of “common carriers” as public utilities. Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, quickly spoke out against such increased government control over the Internet. Dr. Johnson then said, “This federal power grab being advocated by President Obama is, unfortunately, right in line with others by this Administration. It sends a particularly poor signal to communist China, where he is visiting this week.”
Senator Johnson’s report highlights evidence of a “pause” and a change in course at the FCC after the President’s comments. It also notes concerns by Commission staff during the process and criticizes the agency for apparent lack of transparency in the course of the resulting committee investigation.
Notably, in an FCC oversight hearing this week featuring all five Commissioners, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) stated, “I want to thank Chairman Johnson and his staff for their work on this report, and I hope the Commission—rather than resorting to a defensive posture—will look for ways to demonstrate the kind of transparency expected of our independent agencies.” Chairman Thune also announced he intends to introduce new FCC reauthorization legislation soon.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: March 4, 2016