U.S. FCC inspector general reviewing net neutrality process

By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission's inspector general has opened an investigation into how the agency arrived at its new rules for Internet service providers, U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz said at a hearing on Tuesday.

Republicans have accused the FCC, an independent agency, of being unduly influenced by the White House in setting stricter "net neutrality" rules earlier this year. The rules largely followed the tack that President Barack Obama publicly supported in a video released in November, which sought a more drastic change in the regulatory regime for Internet providers than the one previously proposed by the FCC.

FCC Inspector General David Hunt could not immediately be reached but Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Jay Keithley said in an email that it was the office's policy "not to comment on the existence or non-existence of an investigation."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the Democrats on Chaffetz's House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform pushed back against the notion that the White House called the shots on the new Internet rules. The regulator instead has said his views on how to write them evolved over months.

"There were no secret instructions from the White House," Wheeler said at the hearing. "I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the president's recommendation."

Wheeler said that he was unaware of the investigation but would cooperate with it. FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart referred inquiries to the inspector general's office.

Chaffetz told reporters after the hearing that he learned of the process investigation from the FCC inspector general's office in recent days but didn't have any further details.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Eric Beech and Christian Plumb)

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