House clashes on FCC reform bill


Two Republican-backed draft bills that would reform Federal Communications Commission processes were met with opposition by Democrats who said the legislation would undermine the FCC's ability to adopt new rules and protect consumers at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology July 11 hearing.

The bills (H.R. 3309) and (H.R. 3310) would make several revisions to the way the FCC does business, including limiting merger conditions, allowing a majority of commissioners to add items to the agenda for vote, putting shot clocks on decisions and putting new requirements on issuing rules.

Republicans, including subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said the legislation would speed up FCC decision making and improve transparency in the agency. It would also tie the FCC to a cost-benefit analysis of any new regulations, and limit the FCC's ability to impose merger conditions.

National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners General Counsel James Ramsay said at the hearing the additional steps are designed to address abuse of process, which can undermine rational decision-making. The steps give FCC commissioners more decision making time before they vote, he said.

Former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell also said he supported the bill at the hearing. McDowell favors making the FCC justify new rules with a cost-benefits analysis and also favors a sunset date rules as a way to make sure outdated ones are no longer used.

But Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the legislation would impose added costs and less oversight when it comes to merger reviews. Waxman added, that would give the Justice Department the lead on reviewing mergers and--unlike the DOJ--FCC reviews are more than just investigations into antitrust issues. The FCC reviews also include diversity issues and the impact the mergers would have on jobs.

Ranking subcommittee member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) didn't even think the hearing should have taken place since similar bills passed the House, but died in the Senate last year. She said the legislation was "a backdoor way of gutting the FCC's authority."

For more:
- go to the hearing page (with prepared testimony and webcast)
- download the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee memo (.pdf)

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