Democrats Give FCC Ultimatum

Mar 14, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The Federal Communications Commission drew an ultimatum from the House Energy and Commerce Committee telecom panel: Return to your traditional role of consumer protection or else.

“When the FCC loses sight of its proper role, consumers suffer,” said Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., told FCC commissioners at a hearing Tuesday.

The hearing lasted more than four hours as member after member questioned FCC commissioners. It was the first appearance by all five FCC commissioners at the House oversight panel in more than three years and the first since Democrats took over Congress. The commissioners found themselves quizzed about a smorgasbord of issues, from broadband growth to media ownership.

The commission’s reception quickly made clear that the FCC — like other parts of the government — would be treated dramatically different under Democrats than it was under Republicans.

“We intend to have you appear frequently,” said panel chairman Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who also asked why the FCC hadn’t probed whether the Bush administration violated telephone privacy laws when the National Security Agency obtained phone individual phone records.

Rep. Dingell unveiled a barrage of attacks and said the meetings could be monthly if the FCC doesn’t change. He questioned whether the FCC had gone too far when, in the name of speeding up cable competition, it sought to limit concessions cities can seek for awarding new cable franchises, suggesting any such limit of cities was up to Congress. He rapped the FCC for taking too long to finish two payola probes – one of radio station payments by music companies for airplay and the other of government payments to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to promote President Bush’s “No child left behind” initiative.

Rep. Dingell also complained that the FCC regularly announced approval of items on its plate months before detailing exactly what it approved.

“I find regulating by press release a curious way to interpret the Administrative Procedures Act.”

Finally, he attacked the FCC for not protecting the public interest.Other Democrats questioned the FCC’s commitment to boosting the number of broadcasting licenses held by women and minorities.Republicans defended the FCC’s direction and some suggested a need to further ease media ownership rules to help smaller stations.FCC chairman Kevin J. Martin and the FCC commissioners defended their decisions at the hearing, but mostly offered to provide additional information.

(Editor: Horowitz)