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FCC chair calls for more oversight of Facebook, Google and Twitter

Ajit Pai doesn't believe in strict net neutrality rules, but he thinks the government should keep a closer eye on Silicon Valley giants.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai And FTC Chairman Joseph Simons Testify To Senate Appropriations Committee Hearing On Their Dept.'s Budget

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says big tech companies need to be more transparent about how they operate.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

Do big tech companies need more government oversight? That's the question Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai pondered in a blog post Tuesday, just as Congress prepares to grill executives from Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday.

Specifically, Pai said companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter need to be more transparent about how they operate their social media platforms.

"Currently, the FCC imposes strict transparency requirements on companies that operate broadband networks — how they manage their networks, performance characteristics, and the like," he wrote. "Yet consumers have virtually no insight into similar business practices by tech giants."

The Republican-controlled FCC, led by Pai, killed Obama-era net neutrality regulation on broadband services last year.

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While he rejected the idea that these companies should be regulated "like the water company" or any other public utility, he said, "it's important to have a serious conversation about these issues — not least because these tech giants have come to have much greater influence over our economy and society."

Pai's statements come on the eve of two Congressional hearings set for Wednesday in which executives from Twitter and Facebook will face questioning from lawmakers. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg will testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in the morning about foreign governments that spread misinformation on social media.

Then Dorsey will head to the House in the afternoon where he'll be grilled by members of the Energy and Commerce Committee about how Twitter polices hate speech and harassment. But Dorsey is also likely to face allegations from Republicans that the company's powerful platform discriminates against conservatives.

In his blog, Pai suggested that companies like Facebook and Google, which the FCC doesn't regulate, are far more powerful than the broadband providers his agency does regulate. He noted that Google's market capitalization "is greater than that of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Charter combined." And that Google and Facebook have together created "a powerful duopoly on digital advertising." Meanwhile, Twitter has become the medium of choice for politicians to celebrities to corporate executives to make news, "and where billions more can read about it and make their own."

He said the public deserves to know more about how these companies operate.

"We need to seriously think about whether the time has come for these companies to abide by new transparency obligations," he said. "After all, just as is the case with respect to broadband providers, consumers need accurate information in order to make educated choices about whether and how to use these tech giants' platforms." 

The Honeymoon is Over: This is why tech now finds itself under Washington's microscope.

Infowars and Silicon Valley: Everything you need to know about the tech industry's free speech debate.