The week started with a bang for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler as he faced tough questions from the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee in a hearing titled “FCC: Process & Transparency.” Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), already annoyed that FCC Chairman Wheeler did not satisfy his inquiries or appear before his panel before adopting the “Open Internet” rulemaking in late February, did not mince words:
In 2007, then-Senator Obama, “strongly requested” the FCC “put out any changes that they intend to vote on in a new notice of proposed rulemaking.” Sen. Obama believed doing otherwise would be “irresponsible.” Then-Chairman Kevin Martin responded to these concerns by releasing the draft text of the rule changes and inviting a four-week public comment period…. That didn’t happen in this case so to suggest that there is no precedent for this… that’s just not true. Chairman Martin went even further, and in December 2007, testified before Congress – more than once – about the rule changes. And yet we invited Commissioner Wheeler to come before us and he refused. He didn’t have any problem meeting at the White House, but did have a problem coming before Congress. In today’s case Chairman Wheeler did quite the opposite and failed to provide this type of transparency. Chairman Wheeler did not make the open Internet rule public, did not invite public comment, and declined to appear before this Committee. We find that wholly unacceptable.
Rep. Chaffetz also revealed that the FCC Inspector General is investigating the net neutrality rulemaking process.
The grilling continued later in the week as Chairman Wheeler was joined by the other four FCC Commissioners in broader hearings in the House and Senate. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) remarked:
Rather than exercising regulatory humility, the three majority commissioners chose to take the most radical, polarizing, and partisan path possible. Instead of working with me and my colleagues in the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, to find a consensus, the three of you chose an option that I believe will only increase political, regulatory, and legal uncertainty, which will ultimately hurt average Internet users. Simply put, your actions jeopardize the open Internet that we are all seeking to protect.
Similarly, House Communications & Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) questioned the FCC’s ability for “high-caliber policymaking” and declared that the “agency has devolved into a place where statutory obligations are left to languish in favor of scoring political points.”
The tough schedule continues next week as Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai will face members of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Appropriations Committee.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: March 20, 2015