FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and his fellow commissioners spent a busy week testifying at a series of Congressional hearings where lawmakers launched with a battery of questions on the FCC’s recent decision to regulate broadband Internet services as Title II telecommunications services.
Wheeler was the sole FCC witness to appear Tuesday at a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) took Wheeler to task for changing his approach to the Open Internet rules in the wake of President Obama’s November speech recommending Title II classification. As he informed Wheeler that the FCC’s Office of the Inspector General has commenced an investigation into the process by which the Title II order was adopted, Chaffetz called for legislative remedies, arguing, “there could have been a lot more done to maximize the transparency” of the FCC’s rulemaking process. In reply, Wheeler repeated assertions that his philosophy concerning Title II had evolved in the weeks before Obama’s speech, yet acknowledged that “the President’s focus on Title II put wind in the sails of everyone looking for strong open Internet protections.” Wheeler also cited the lack of marketreaction to Obama’s speech as another important factor that weighed into his final decision to pursue a Title II track.
Questions of White House influence over the Open Internet order were also raised at a House Communications & Technology Subcommittee hearing on Thursday, as Republicans on the committee voiced concern that the rules as written could lead to the regulation of broadband rates in spite of Wheeler’s pledges of forbearance. Emphasizing, however, that no wireless carrierhad been subjected to such a challenge in the 22 years that the FCC has regulated wireless networks under Title II, Wheeler maintained that, ifsuch a complaint were to arise, “there will be a process that will lookat that and develop a record that would make it very clear that the FCCis not in the consumer rate regulation business.”
Meanwhile,the most animated hearing of the week took place Wednesday when all five FCC commissioners were grilled for nearly four hours by the Senate Commerce Committee on a variety of issues ranging from the Title II order to universal service to FCC auction rules pertaining to designated entities. While Wheeler sparred with Pai on the possibility of broadband rate regulation, committee chairman John Thune (R-SD) suggested that the level of disagreement among the FCC’s commissioners and many others concerning the Open Internet rules highlights the need for clarity that can only be achieved through legislation. As Thuneannounced that he has written a draft bill to provide “clear rules forthe digital road with clear authority for the FCC to enforce them,”ranking committee member Bill Nelson (D-FL) affirmed his openness to“true bipartisan congressional action, provided that such action fullyprotects consumers, does not undercut the FCC’s role, and leaves theagency with flexible, forward-looking authority.”