The chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications and Oversight Subcommittees have formally asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for documents, including emails and memos, related to its decision-making process.
Among the documents they want to see are those relating to any communications with the Obama administration, those that discuss the legal basis for adopting or enforcing the new rules, communications about reclassifying broadband or justifying that move, or those among various parties that relate to voluntary conditions on the Comcast/NBCU merger.
Comcast agreed to abide by the network neutrality rules, approved by the FCC Dec. 21, 2010, whether or not they were eventually overturned by the courts. The rules have not yet gone into effect, and probably won't until at least October, so currently no other cable operator is bound by them.
E&C Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Communications Subcommittee Chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Oversight Subcommittee Chair Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) pointed to the FCC's use of a possible Title II reclassification option to get industry to go along with its eventual "compromise" net neutrality rule order, and to a report in Judicial Watch that Commission Michael Copps's staff had coordinated with advocacy group Free Press "to advance network neutrality regs.
They also site White House meetings they say they have learned about at which the chairman and FCC chief of staff Eddie Lazarus were present and in which the network neutrality rules were debated.
"Agency decisions should be based on law and policy," they wrote. "These allegations suggest the FCC's network neutrality proceeding was designed to fulfill a presidential campaign slogan, when it should have been based on an analysis of statutory authority, an economic analysis of the Internet service market, and an examination of the record. If true, it seems the ICC failed to develop an independent conclusion derived from a balanced fact-based record, which is incompatible with proper rule-making."
The three have been long-time critics of the FCC's network neutrality rules as government overregulation of the Internet that could discourage investment and innovation.
"As with previous requests for information from the House Energy & Commerce Committee, we will cooperate fully in our response," said a spokesman for FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
A Copps spokesperson was not available for comment and had no comment when the Judicial Watch story was first published and another Republican member of the House Communications Subcommittee, Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) called for an investigation.
But Free Press called it a "fishing expedition."
"It cites the thoroughly debunked and ridiculous notion pushed by the group Judicial Watch that routine, publicly documented ex parte contacts between Free Press and Commissioner Copps' office were somehow nefarious," said Free Press President Craig Aaron Thursday in a statement. "If that's what these congressmen call coordination, then Congress should be far more concerned with the agency's coordination with powerful companies like AT&T, which shaped the final Net Neutrality rules that Free Press roundly criticized. Better yet, the leadership in the House should focus more on policies that will protect free speech online and lower consumers' bills through real competition, instead of wasting taxpayer resources with attempts to score cheap political points with the fringe or do political favors for their deep-pocketed corporate benefactors."