House Oversight Committee Demands FCC Turn Over Unredacted Net Neutrality Emails With White House

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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The House Oversight Committee on Friday ordered Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to hand over unredacted versions of emails discussing net neutrality with the White House, which the FCC asked for input on redactions prior to disclosure.

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz sent a letter to Wheeler on Friday asking the FCC head to turn over unredacted communications between his office and high-level White House employees discussing net neutrality, which were first obtained by Vice News via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Those emails, which Chaffetz requested from Wheeler earlier this month in order to assess whether the White House exerted inappropriate influence over the FCC’s new net neutrality proposal, were reportedly “heavily…redacted at the behest of the White House.”

“I requested, among other things, all communications between and among FCC personnel and the White House, the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration relating to net neutrality, the open Internet proceeding, the classification of broadband, or the regulation of broadband Internet access service between January 14, 2014, and the present,” Chaffetz wrote.

Those communications include emails between Wheeler and former White House Counselor John Podesta, National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients, Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Jason Furman, Tom Power of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and NTIA Associate Administrator Larry Strickling.

In his request to Wheeler, Chaffetz notes an email of particular interest from last April with the subject line “Open Internet Update” between Wheeler, Podesta, Zients, Furman and Power, which included an attachment.

Chief of staff for the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau Kirk Burgee said in a Feb. 9 email that the messages between the FCC and the White House were redacted with guidance from associate White House counsel Nicholas McQuaid, who instructed FCC assistant general counsel Elizabeth Lyle at her request.

The FCC sent a similar letter to NTIA requesting redactions.

“FCC FOIA officers are well trained as to what information may be withheld from requests made under the Freedom of Information Act,” Nate Jones, a FOIA issues expert at George Washington University’s National Security Archive, told Vice. “Offering White House political hands (who are not trained in FOIA) another, un-required crack at censoring a FOIA request is bad FOIA policy and a poor demonstration of open government.”

Chaffetz originally requested all communications between the White House and the FCC over net neutrality on Feb. 6, after Wheeler announced his intention to regulate Internet service providers as public utilities — the core component of his net neutrality proposal, and one called for almost word-for-word by President Obama in November.

The committee gave the FCC until Feb. 23 — three days before it votes on Wheeler’s plan — to produce the documents. (RELATED: FCC/FTC Commissioners: ‘The Internet Isn’t Broken, And We Don’t Need The President’s Plan To ‘Fix’ It)

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