Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said Thursday he expects there will be a battle over what should be done with a chunk of spectrum that the FCC would like to auction off and public safety officials want to use for a national broadband public safety network.
Stearns made the comments following a speech at the Minority Media and Telecom Council's annual summit. Stearns was asked about issues he may take up as the new chairman of the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and indicated he may focus on network neutrality depending on what comes out of a hearing that the Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee is expected to hold next month with all five FCC commissioners. Stearns said that if "there are areas that the FCC is not complying with" his subcommittee would step in and examine those.
On the D-block, Stearns noted the disagreement he and other members of the Energy and Commerce Committee had with other lawmakers over what should be done with the D-block spectrum. Stearns and former Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., offered a bill in the last Congress that would have implemented an FCC proposal to auction off the D-block to commercial bidders and use the proceeds to help fund the creation of a national interoperable broadband network for public safety. Public safety officials have been seeking to build such a network since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks highlighted the problems first responders had in communicating with each other.
But Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and the chairmen of the House and Senate Homeland Security committees have sided with public safety officials who are calling for the D-block to be re-allocated to them, a move that would require legislation. Stearns said he expects there will be a battle over that issue this Congress and indicated he may re-introduce his D-block bill from the last Congress.
On net neutrality, Stearns acknowledged that the order the FCC approved last month is "light-touch" regulation, but added that it's "still a touch." He said regulation of the Internet is the "prerogative of Congress" and that the FCC's order creates more uncertainty in the market that will hamper the willingness of broadband providers to invest in building out their networks.
Stearns has reintroduced legislation that would require the FCC to demonstrate that there is a market failure before it could regulate the Internet.