House panel ap­proves a mea­sure to re­vamp FCC and rein in its rules

The Washington Times Daily - - Business - BY TIM DE­VANEY

House Repub­li­cans on Tues­day pushed for­ward a bill de­signed to in­crease trans­parency at the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion and pre­vent what crit­ics say are need­less reg­u­la­tions that have cre­ated un­cer­tainty in the mar­ket and in­hib­ited deal-mak­ing.

The bill passed 31-16 in the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee and now goes to the full House for a vote, but the Demo­crat-con­trolled Se­nate is seen as un­likely to con­sider the leg­is­la­tion. Cable, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and broad­cast busi­ness groups have expressed sup­port for the bill.

“To­day’s fast-chang­ing mar­ket­place re­quires care­ful de­lib­er­a­tion be­fore gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion,” said bill au­thor Rep. Greg Walden, Ore­gon Re­pub­li­can, who chairs the panel’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions and tech­nol­ogy sub­com­mit­tee.

Mr. Walden praised FCC Chair­man Julius Ge­na­chowski for im­prov­ing the agency’s work­ings, but added, “Even this com­mis­sion has over­reached its statu­tory au­thor­ity and been less than open and trans­par­ent in its rule-mak­ing, and we need to lock in re­form with leg­is­la­tion to en­sure that good gov­ern­ment prac­tices con­tinue from one ad­min­is­tra­tion to the next.”

But Rep. John D. Din­gell, Michi­gan Demo­crat, called the bill “leg­isla­tive mal­prac­tice.”

“It mi­cro­man­ages the way the FCC would do its job,” added Rep. Henry A. Wax­man, the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who is the rank­ing mi­nor­ity mem­ber on the com­mit­tee, a cri­tique that Rep. Lee Terry, Ne­braska Re­pub­li­can, called “a lit­tle dra­matic.”

The bill would re­quire the FCC to sur­vey the com­mu­ni­ca­tions mar­ket­place be­fore it cre­ates new rules to make sure the agency has an up-to-date un­der­stand­ing of the in­dus­try it is reg­u­lat­ing.

The FCC would also be re­quired to iden­tify the mar­ket fail­ure, con­sumer harm or reg­u­la­tory bar­rier it was try­ing to rem­edy be­fore mov­ing for­ward with ex­pen­sive rule-mak­ing. FCC of­fi­cials also must demon­strate that the ben­e­fits of reg­u­la­tion out­weigh the costs.

The FCC would be re­quired to dis­close in­ter­nal pro­ce­dures for pend­ing or­ders, pub­lish or­ders be­fore open meet­ings and es­tab­lish min­i­mum public-re­view pe­ri­ods.

“This is one of the big­gest sec­tors of our econ­omy, con­trolled by three peo­ple who vote be­hind closed doors,” Mr. Walden said. “Is that too much to say, ‘Tell us what you’re work­ing on?’ ”

Some have com­plained that past com­mis­sions have mis­used the sys­tem be­cause of a lack of open­ness. “I think that some of the chair­men and for­mer chair­men of the FCC have been less than op­ti­mal,” said Rep. Joe Bar­ton, Texas Re­pub­li­can.

In other cases, chair­men would ig­nore the wishes of a bi­par­ti­san group of com­mis­sion­ers by not putting a cer­tain is­sue on the agenda.

“What we’re find­ing with the agency is they are us­ing a lack of pro­ce­dural rules to the chair­man’s ad­van­tage,” Mr. Terry said. “This will just tighten things up.”

Un­der the bill, the FCC would also es­tab­lish “shot clocks” that in­clude a sched­ule of when re­ports on the mat­ter will be re­leased, so in­ter­ested par­ties can know how quickly to ex­pect de­ci­sions.

The com­mit­tee turned back an amend­ment of­fered by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, that would have re­quired broad­cast and cable op­er­a­tors to dis­close the names of donors of more than $10,000 to en­ti­ties “spon­sor­ing po­lit­i­cal pro­gram­ming.” Repub­li­cans said the amend­ment was an at­tempt to tack cam­paign fi­nance re­forms onto the FCC bill.

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