Rep. Issa Wants Info On FCC White House Visits

Rep. Darrell Issa
(R-Calif.), head of the House government reform committee, has told FCC
Chairman Julius Genachowski that his responses on the FCC's process for
adopting new network neutrality rules were incomplete, ignored many of the
congressman's questions, and that the chairman needs to explain numerous White
House visits between January 2009 and November 2010, and do so by April 6.

Issa cited
numerous meetings between Genachowski, his staffers, and the White House, pointing
to 81 visits by Genachowski and 60 by his chief of staff (Genachowski is a
former Harvard Law classmate and friend of the President). "The large
volume and timing of these meetings gives the appearance that they are more
than coincidental," Issa wrote Thursday to Genachowski according
to a copy of the letter obtained by B&C.

Issa was
responding to Genachowski's Feb. 23 letter explaining to Issa
that FCC attorneys were not aware of any violations of ex parte rules
concerning conversations FCC officials may or may not have had with the
administration about its network neutrality rulemaking.

Genachowski had
also told the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government
Reform that any conversations before Oct. 22, 2009, would not have been subject
to disclosure rules in any event.

But Issa
is now looking for explanations on any conversations after that."We worked with both Congress and the executive branch as we carried out Congress's mandate to create a National Broadband Plan that would improve our communication networks and advance public safety, education, health care and energy efficiency," said an FCC spokesperson.

Issa had
written twice asking about the issue, first on Nov. 13 and again on Dec. 29,
citing reports that "Obama administration officials had knowledge of and potentially
contributed to crafting of these proposed regulations [now approved regulations]."
In his earlier letters, Issa also pointed to the fact that on Sept. 21,
2009, both the chairman and the President had separately, and almost
simultaneously, announced the plan to propose net neutrality regs. That, he
said, would be a violation of ex parte rules, which he said would require that
coordination to be publicly disclosed, which it was not. He also called it a
"serious breech of the independent proceedings of the FCC."

countered that the Communications Act allows the chairman to represent the
commission in meetings with other government officials and agencies. He also
said that the relevant ex parte procedural disclosure rules generally don't
apply until the agency releases a notice of proposed rulemaking. "In this instance,"
he said, "consistent with general agency practice, prior to the release of
the Open Internet NPRM on Oct. 22, 2009 the open Internet matter was an
"exempt proceeding" under the ex parte rules. Thus, for example, no
disclosure requirements applied in September 2009."

Thursday's letter, Issa requested lots more information, including records
of all meetings between FCC staffers/consultants and White House staff or consultants,
all documents including emails, among them, and all the information requested in previous
letters that Issa said has not yet been provided.

letter had a bit of a sting in the tail. "The Committee on Oversight and
Government Reform is the principal oversight committee of the House of
Representatives and may at ‘any time' investigate ‘any matter' as set forth in
House Rule X. We request that you provide the requested documents and
information relevant to these inquiries as soon as possible, but no later than
5 p.m. on April 6."

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.