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Dems Question FCC Independence on Net Neutrality

Most of a dozen House Energy & Commerce Democrats have told the FCC that there is a laundry list of things it needs to do before voting on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to roll back Title II classification of ISPs and review 2015 Open Internet order rules. They also suggest the FCC "may" have "inappropriately violated its independence by "taking direction from the President."

That is the same charge the other side leveled at former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler after a shift to a Title II approach that appeared to coincide with President Barack Obama's public call for the FCC to adopt Title II.

That Democratic pushback came in comments to the FCC on Pai's proposal from 11 committee Dems, including ranking member Frank Pallone (N.J.) and ranking Communications Subcommittee member Mike Doyle (PA.).

They listed a bunch of things the FCC needs to seek comment on and establish before any vote, including whether the proposal will harm free speech, democracy, small businesses, eocnomic development, jobs, privacy and more.

They also say the FCC has to improve the accuracy of its broadband deployment data first.

As to the charge of White House influence, the Democrats recognized it hearkened to the claims of the other side.

"Before and after the adoption of the 2015 net neutrality order, Chairman Pai often said that President Obama improperly influenced the FCC by releasing a video supporting a path forward for net neutrality and submitting a proper ex parte filing in the docket," the Democrats wrote in their comments. "As has been well established, the Chairman’s comments were certainly an overstatement, but the potential influence of this White House goes much further. It appears that the President directly ordered Chairman Pai to repeal net neutrality, potentially during a visit to the Oval Office. If true, this proposal clearly violates our intention to create an agency independent of the executive."

Pai's comments stemmed from the fact that Wheeler had proposed a non-Title II approach to new net neutrality regs, but moved to a Title II model after the Obama online call for that approach.

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.