FCC Commissioner: ‘Unprecedented Involvement Of Executive Branch In Our Decision-Making’

WASHINGTON — Republican Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai hosted a press conference on Tuesday to discuss with reporters about his concern about President Obama’s proposal “to regulate the internet.” Pai cited concerns ranging from the proposal causing heavy-handed FCC regulations on the internet to the plan being a “gift to trial lawyers.”

Under the idea of net neutrality the president, along with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, is pushing the plan forward prior to the Feb. 26 FCC vote on the matter. However, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson appears concerned about the influence the White House may have on the agency decision making with this policy.  Johnson sent a letter to the commission requesting information on the issue, as did House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz.

Johnson told reporters after Pai’s presser, “We certainly want to find out to what extent [WHEELER’S] change of heart was actually his own or whether there was influence by the White House.  [The FCC] is supposed to be an independent agency and so we’re trying to find the information. We want to find the communication between himself and the White House—his agency and the White House and see whether this truly was an independent act.”

The Daily Caller sat down with Pai following his press conference to discuss these matters and other issues relating to the president’s net neutrality proposal:

TheDC: How will content possibly be censored when the government moves in on this and treats the internet as a utility?

PAI: Great question. I think what is focused upon in the item—all 332 pages of it is—not so much the FCC micromanaging particular editorial content decisions but more the entire ecosystems of how the internet functions telling different providers of content and of broadband service how they should interact and on what terms they should interact and what prices they should interact. I think it’s that kind of micromanaging that ultimately is the gist that’s in the order. Now whose to say what the FCC might do in the future as a result of this, but as far as this document goes, it focuses more on the infrastructure part of the equation as opposed to content.

TheDC: So it sets up the foundation of what could happen in the future in terms of once the government gets its hands into this, it could bring about some kind of censorship in some way shape or form?

PAI: The document doesn’t suggest that and I would hope, especially given the clear first amendment law on this question, the FCC wouldn’t even entertain that proposition but if—and I’ve been outspoken in my opposition to it—and other attempts have hinted at infringement on first amendment values, I can tell you that if the agency ever proposed to do something like that, I would speak out against it.

TheDC: Previous attempts at regulating the internet have been shot down in the courts, why is it that this one seems to be a little scarier than the last ones?

PAI: Two different reasons. One is the unprecedented involvement of the executive branch in our decision-making.  Traditionally the FCC has been an independent agency that, even though I and the other chairmen are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, we’re considered to be independent and render expert objective judgment about some of these difficult policy questions.

Here what you have is the president in an unprecedented way saying explicitly, “Not only do I want the FCC to do XY and Z, but this is the legal theory I want them to use to support it.” I think once that announcement was made, the trajectory of how our decision-making was proceeding, I think the writing was on the wall and the FCC felt like it was under enormous pressure to do what the president wanted us to do. And so that’s one fact.