Background on Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission Hearing (updated)
Originally published: July 9, 2012
Last updated: July 9, 2012 - 8:45pm
With the May 7, 2012, confirmation of Federal Communications Commission members Rosenworcel and Pai, FCC is back to a full complement of five commissioners. This will be the first hearing with the commissioners since their appointments. The committee’s majority staff offers a summary of some of the issues that may arise at the hearing including: 1) Commercial Spectrum Auctions, 2) Interoperable Public Safety Broadband Network, 3) Universal Service, 4) Special Access, 5) Video and Broadcast Ownership Regulation, 6) Cable Spectrum Transfer (the Verizon-SpectrumCo deal), 7) June 29 Storm Outages.
In a memo to Democratic members of the House Commerce Committee, staffers listed the "key issues" before the Federal Communications Commission. The first was the spectrum incentive auction legislation that will fund the creation of an interoperable public safety network with proceeds from auctioned spectrum reclaimed from broadcasters. The second item is merger reviews, with the Verizon-cable transaction leading the list -- the FCC is vetting Verizon's bid to pay $3.9 billion to cable operators Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Bright House for advanced wireless spectrum. Third, the FCC's proposal to allow use of satellite spectrum authorizations for terrestrial wireless broadband, which is what Dish wants to do with its satellite spectrum and what LightSquared got a waiver to do before GPS interference issues prompted the FCC to put the kibosh on that effort. Fourth, recent FCC actions related to the Comcast-NBCU deal conditions, specifically its finding that Comcast has not complied with a non-neighborhooding condition when it came to Bloomberg TV, and a consent decree with Comcast over marketing of low-cost, stand-alone broadband.
According to his prepared testimony for the House Commerce Committee’s July 10 Federal Communications Commission oversight hearing, new FCC Commission Ajit Pai suggests he does know jack about the FCC, and suggests that means being more nimble and more quick. Commissioner Pai says the FCC must get its work done faster, and suggests one way might be to stop applying extraneous "voluntary" conditions to mergers and start applying cost-benefit analysis before deciding to impose new regulations. Those suggestions come after more than 80 meetings with stakeholders, members of Congress and others. Commissioner Pai said the common refrain he has heard was how "unreasonably delayed" FCC actions have been, from months to years to most of a decade.
Commissioner Pai is likely to clash with fellow Commissioner Rosenworcel over his belief that the FCC's approval of mergers and transactions should not be predicated on imposed voluntary commitments that are not tied to a transaction-specific harm. Commissioner Rosenworcel, echoing former commissioner Copps, will likely be a strong advocate for a broader interpretation of the public interest. "Consumer protection is always in the public interest," she will tell the subcommittee. At the top of Rosenworcel's list of issues facing the FCC is public safety. "Public safety is paramount. Congress directed the FCC to promote the safety of life and property in the very first sentence of the Communications Act."
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski says the FCC is still on track to start putting out its incentive auctions proposals by the fall. The chairman also plans to tell Congress that the FCC has reduced by 20% the number of license and application renewals that had been pending for more than six months, as well as cutting in half the amount of time it took to review what he called routine wireless transactions.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell says the FCC needs to start processing indecency complaints now that the Supreme Court is through with court challenges to the FCC's authority. "The Commission should act with all deliberate speed to clarify its indecency policy in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision," he says. That will allow it to work through the roughly 1.5 million complaints (involving 9,700 broadcasts and about 700 pending station license renewals, says McDowell), some of which date back almost a decade. He says the FCC needs to decide whether it needs to modify its enforcement policy, and how it will ensure broadcasters have sufficient notice of whatever it does.
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