JW Files Lawsuit against FCC for Documents Related to Decision to Delay Transition to Digital Television
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to obtain documents related to the government’s decision to delay the transition to digital television. The lawsuit was filed August 6. Judicial Watch filed its original FOIA request following press reports alleging that a donor and advisor to President Obama stands to benefit from the delay. Meanwhile, in a highly unusual departure from policy, the FCC claims it cannot respond to parts of Judicial Watch’s FOIA request "until we receive instructions from the White House."
On February 13, 2009, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request with the FCC seeking access to the following records: "Any records concerning the decision to delay the transition to digital television until June 12, 2009…Any and all records of communication between the Federal Communications [Commission] and the White House concerning the delays in the transition to digital television."
On May 8, 2009, the FCC reported to Judicial Watch that it had uncovered documents related to the first part of Judicial Watch’s request and that the FCC would soon release some documents while withholding others. With respect to the second part of Judicial Watch’s request, involving communications with the Obama administration, Joel Kaufman, Associate General Counsel for the FCC, indicated that the agency was required to "consult with the White House." The FCC "is unable to respond to this part of your FOIA request until we receive instructions from the White House," Kaufman wrote in his response letter.
On June 16, Judicial Watch received a number of documents related to the first part of its request. However, a large portion of these documents were heavily redacted without explanation. No documents have been received to date related to the FCC’s communications with the White House.
Press reports have noted that a donor and advisor to President Obama on digital television issues, Gerard Salemme, is an executive with Clearwire, a telecommunications company that stood to benefit from the delay. The digital transition delay allegedly allowed Clearwire (and its partner, Sprint) to maintain an edge over competitor Verizon. The delay in the digital transition also would have had the effect of delaying Verizon’s launch of a new broadband wireless network that would compete with a network currently operated by Clearwire/Sprint.
"Why is the Obama White House interfering in a routine FOIA request? There is no provision of FOIA law that allows the White House to screen requests for potentially damaging information. The FCC has an obligation to abide by the law and either release the documents or provide a justification for withholding them. If the Obama White House cared a whit about transparency, White House operatives would stop impeding the open records process," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.