Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee clashed on Monday over legislation designed to increase transparency and efficiency at the Federal Communications Commission.
Democrats said the bill could hog-tie the FCC, but Republican supporters countered that the agency is badly in need of reform.
"Given the FCC’s role as the federal regulator of the communications and technology sector — one of the largest economic drivers even in this sluggish national economy — it is imperative that the FCC operate in a transparent and accountable manner that encourages job creation, investment, and innovation,” Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said during the opening-statement portion of the markup on Monday. The markup will continue with votes scheduled for Tuesday.
The proposals include a requirement that the FCC identify whatever market failure its proposed rules are aimed at addressing. Another provision would have the FCC conduct a cost-benefit analysis on regulations that might impose a burden on consumers or industry, but some Democrats say it would be costly and time-consuming to undertake on a regular basis and should only be used for major proceedings.
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who chairs the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said it is “hogwash” to suggest that the FCC shouldn’t be singled out for reform. “This is the agency that had a backlog of 4,984 petitions, 3,950 license applications, and more than a million consumer complaints at the end of last year,” he said.
Walden’s bill would also restrict the FCC’s ability to place conditions on mergers that it reviews. That will reduce “last-minute side deals” that often mark FCC merger approvals, Walden said. “The agency calls these side deals ‘voluntary commitments,’” he said. “In my mind, they are anything-but-voluntary commitments.”
Walden’s bill passed his subcommittee with a party-line vote in November and Democrats repeated their criticisms on Monday.
Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., said she recognizes the need for reform at the FCC, but she called the legislation a “a blatant overreach that will severely tie the hands of the FCC for years, and limit its ability to properly conduct any meaningful review, oversight, and action on our nation’s telecom policy.”
The committee will also consider a bill that would streamline the way the FCC files reports to Congress.