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House Panel Set to Quiz FCC Chairman, Commissioners House Panel Set to Quiz FCC Chairman, Commissioners House Panel Set to Quiz FCC Chairman, Commissioners House Panel Set to Quiz F...

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Tech

House Panel Set to Quiz FCC Chairman, Commissioners

July 9, 2012

Spectrum auctions, Universal Service Fund reform, and Federal Communications Commission processes will be on the agenda when all five members of the FCC appear before a House subcommittee on Tuesday morning.

The hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee will mark the first time newly-sworn commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, and Ajit Pai, a Republican, testify before the House panel that oversees their work.

Pai will likely endear himself to panel Republicans with his endorsement of many of the key principles contained in the controversial FCC Process Reform Act of 2012, which passed the House on a near party line vote, and is stalled in the Senate. The legislation would limit the FCC's ability to obtain voluntary concessions from parties to mergers and require detailed cost analyses of new regulations and time limits on Commission proceedings.

Even without controlling legislation, the FCC, "could and should stop imposing conditions and insisting upon so-called 'voluntary commitments' by parties that are extraneous to the transaction and not designed to remedy a transaction-specific harm," Pai writes in testimony prepared for the hearing.

Chairman Julius Genachowski doesn't directly address oversight in his prepared testimony, but notes that the FCC has made a dent in its backlog of license applications and renewals and other items that have been pending for six months or longer.

A memo from Republican committee staffers points to plans to free up spectrum currently occupied by TV broadcasters through reverse auctions, the timeline for the rollout of the planned broadband public safety network, and the possibility of a FCC move to halt grants of pricing flexibility in the "special access" market for dedicated business broadband services as areas of potential conflict between Genachowski and Republican committee members.

Pai will complain that that the FCC is not on schedule to meet the goals of freeing up 300 megahertz of spectrum for mobile broadband by 2015, and 500 megahertz by 2020. Fellow Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell, meanwhile, will reiterate his call for the federal government to vacate spectrum for commercial use, without commenting on the deadlines set in the National Broadband Plan.

Committee Republicans are likely to grill Genachowski on the status of the backlog of indecency complaints, which had been gathering dust at the FCC while a group of legal challenges to the FCC's authority to regulate broadcasts dating back to 2003 wound their way through the courts. A Supreme Court ruling in FCC vs. Fox Television Stations in June didn't provide precise guidance on the limits of FCC powers, but it did the issue back to the FCC.

McDowell is urging the FCC to "process the roughly 1.5 million indecency complaints, some of which have been pending for nine years."

The full Energy and Commerce Committee is taking a hard look at ongoing FCC efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund to include subsidies for broadband expansion and to lower the cost of USF payments made by consumers. Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., along with Technology and Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and ranking member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., sent Genachowski a letter on Monday seeking information on USF disbursements, and information on "high-cost support" -- the subsidies that aid telecommunications companies in providing phone services to consumers in remote and rural areas.

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