The debate over how far the Federal Communications Commission should go to advance its goals divided members of the Senate Commerce Committee, who pressed FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on a range of issues during an oversight hearing on Wednesday.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who is in line to potentially become ranking member or chairman of the Commerce Committee, criticized the FCC for enacting "arbitrary" rules like net neutrality regulations designed to protect competition on the Web.
Those rules are among others that aim to solve a non-existent problem, DeMint said. He also took aim at FCC efforts to promote competition among telecom and other communications companies. "This is one industry that we don't need to encourage," DeMint said. "I think there is a growing case for a lighter regulatory touch."
Wednesday's hearing was the first time all five members of the FCC had appeared before Congress in more than a year. For more on the hearing, visit our Tech page.
FCC oversight hearings are often battlegrounds in the broader Washington debate over government regulation, but Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass, said he fears the FCC could fall prey to anti-regulatory efforts.
"I don't want to see this important entity get caught in the partisan crosshairs of this divided Congress," he said.
Any changes to the FCC's authority should be made to protect consumers, Commerce Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said.
"I am not interested in a reform exercise that puts the thumb on the scale to benefit one industry player, at the expense of another," he said. "Any effort to revise or update the law must keep consumers front and center. And regardless of any such effort, it is imperative the FCC continues to use all its existing authority to robustly protect consumers and the public interest. To our witnesses, I look forward to your testimony and your responses to our questions."