Congress Goes After FCC’s Martin

Dec 3, 2007  •  Post A Comment

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell is ripping the Federal Communications Commission for “an apparent breakdown in an open and transparent regulatory process” and the congressman said a committee panels will launch an inquiry.
As Congress returned to Washington today after the Thanksgiving break, the Michigan Democrat suggested that issues raised last week in a FCC debate over a cable regulation were indicative of major problems under FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin.
“Given several events and proceedings over the past year, I am rapidly losing confidence that the commission has been conducting its affairs in an appropriate manner,” Mr. Dingell said in a letter to FCC commissioners. “While this is certainly not true for every commission proceeding, a trend appears to be emerging of short-circuiting procedural norms, suggesting a larger breakdown at the agency.”
Mr. Dingell cited last week’s vote.
Last week during an FCC meeting whose start was delayed 12 hours, Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein accused Mr. Martin of trying to get the panel to approve new cable curbs by withholding key data until the last minute. The data questioned whether the agency had the legal authority to act on the curbs.
Mr. Adelstein accused Mr. Martin of cherry-picking information that was given to commissioners, leaving them without enough data to vote or evaluate the proposal. Mr. Martin has denied Mr. Adelstein’s claims.
Mr. Dingell said the manner in which the vote occurred intensified his concerns about the FCC’s procedures on a whole range of issues. The FCC has drawn criticism in recent months for the way it launched academic studies on media ownership and examined the impact that loss of local ownership of media might have on communities.
“The commission does not put the text of proposed rules out for notice and comment; there is little public notice of certain proposed commission actions; and commissioners are often not informed of the details of draft items until it is too late to provide the necessary scrutiny and analysis that is so important to reasoned decision-making,” Mr. Dingell said. “Taken as a whole, these events lead to larger concerns as to the inclination and ability of the commission to perform its core mission: the implementation of federal law to serve the public interest.”
Oversight panel chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said he intended to look specifically at how Mr. Martin has run the FCC.
“I have received several complaints from the public and professionals within the communications industry about how Chairman Martin is conducting business at the FCC,” he said. “It is one thing to be an aggressive leader, but many of the allegations indicate possible abuse of power and an attempt to intentionally keep fellow commissioners in the dark. I look forward to investigating these concerns to be sure that the FCC chairman is not disenfranchising his fellow commissioners and the American public he is supposed to serve.”
Public interest groups praised the inquiry.
“Free Press applauds Chairman Dingell for holding the FCC accountable for conducting a fair public policymaking process,” said Ben Scott, the group’s policy director. “The issue of media ownership is far too important to the American people to be subjected to one-sided research, a rigged process and a pre-determined outcome. The lack of transparency in FCC matters has left the public with little faith that the agency is acting in their best interest. We welcome this investigation, and hope it will force the agency to base its broadcast ownership rules on the facts—facts that have been obscured by procedural shenanigans.”


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