As the FCC geared up for what is anticipated to be a partisan 3-2 vote on rules that would subject broadband Internet services to Title II regulation, Republican leaders in both  the House and Senate launched investigations into the development of the draft FCC order and the  influence of the Obama Administration over the FCC’s Title II plan.

In preparation for the scheduled FCC ruling on February 26, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated a  draft order among the agency’s commissioners last week that mandates Title II regulation of both  fixed and wireless broadband Internet service providers (ISPs), in an effort to promote net  neutrality and the openness of Internet networks. Wheeler’s plan to subject broadband to Title II  common carrier regulation corresponds with a November speech in which President Obama urged the FCC  to “reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II . . . while at the same time forbearing  from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.” Prior to Obama’s  speech, Wheeler had floated a proposed “hybrid” approach to net neutrality that derived regulatory  authority from both Title II and Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. In  circulating   the  draft order, however, Wheeler acknowledged that his views on Title II had evolved out of  increasing concern that application of standards of “commercial reasonableness” under Section 706  would benefit ISPs and not consumers. As such, the “light touch” Title II approach outlined by  Wheeler in the draft order would measure ISP behavior against “just and reasonable” standards that  are typically applied to common carriers.

On the heels of Wheeler’s announcement, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman  Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) delivered a letter to Wheeler requesting copies of all documents and  communications between the FCC and the White House and copies of all internal FCC discussions on  grounds “that views expressed by the White House potentially had an improper influence on the  development of the draft Open Internet Order.” That letter was followed by a similar request by  Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI), who confirmed the  launch of an investigative panel on Monday to review those allegations.  Setting a reply deadline  of February 23, Johnson wrote, “since the FCC is an independent agency that derives its authority  from Congress . . . it is highly concerning  that  the  White  House  would  seek  to  take  on   this  level  of involvement in the regulatory process of the FCC.”

Neither Wheeler nor the White House responded to requests for comment. During a televised C-Span  interview, however, FCC Special Counsel Gigi Sohn rejected allegations of undue influence, asserting: “I think what the  president’s statement did was rather than force the chairman’s hand was give him cover to do something that he was  already thinking of doing.”