Republicans are mad about the proposed plan to keep net neutrality. To chronicle their displeasure, a Senate panel is opening an investigation into whether the White House improperly influenced the Federal Communications Commission to classify broadband as a public utility.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Monday, asking for an answer on “what new factors” swayed his decision to recommend that the FCC keep net neutrality. The request comes three months after U.S. President Obama publicly called on the FCC to “keep the Internet free and open” by prohibiting paid prioritization online, preventing website throttling and increasing transparency.
Obama’s remarks came after a series of leaks from the FCC indicating that the independent commission was leaning toward regulation that would have been friendlier to Internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon. Republicans cited the timing of Wheeler’s reversal in the letter to him, giving the chairman two weeks to explain why he felt his earlier opinion was “no longer appropriate.”
This coincides with a separate investigation from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which last week demanded access to the communication records between the White House and FCC on net neutrality.
“The FCC’s new position on net neutrality is not only a monumental shift from Chairman Wheeler’s original net neutrality proposal but also a large deviation from the light regulatory touch applied to broadband services since the Clinton administration,” Johnson said in a statement. “The decision is wrong, and the process raises serious questions about the president’s inappropriate influence over what is supposed to be an independent agency that derives its authority from Congress and not the White House.”
Former FCC Chairman Nicholas Johnson previously told International Business Times that Wheeler’s ultimate responsibility is to the public, although he could face blowback from the Republican-controlled Congress if they’re angry enough over net neutrality to retaliate.
“They can try to change budgetary allotments,” Johnson said. “The Congress could try to get in the way of the FCC’s priorities, or they can increase oversight hurdles for the agency and try to make it a political football for the agency.”