Commissioners off the Capitol Hill hook for now


The Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, Greg Walden (R-OR) had scheduled a little get-together for Tuesday, 5/3/11 called “FCC Process Reform.” But a second glance shows that the item has been removed from the calendar. The FCC chair and all four commissioners were expected to be in attendance.

There is no word as yet on a new date for the hearing.

Fred Upton (R-MI) is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, parent committee to Communications, and is a past chair of the Communications Subcommittee. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) are the ranking members of the full committee and subcommittee, respectively.

Republicans have been disappointed in FCC actions such as passing network neutrality regulations and attaching conditions to the joint venture between Comcast and NBCUniversal.

RBR-TVBR observation: There is always room to tweak process, but it seems to us that real goal here is simply to fire up the charcoal and grill up some commissioner in order to score political points. That’s not to say it’s strictly something Republicans do, because Democrats are perfectly capable of the same thing when they are calling the shots in the committee. But the odds of meaningful tweaks to FCC procedure coming out of this hearing, whenever it happens, are slim.

The FCC is an expert agency commissioned by Congress to deal with the highly technical issues inherent in the complex business of electronic communications. The scientific and technical details that the FCC works with every day are far beyond the understanding of the average US citizen.

We hazard to state that they are also generally beyond the understanding of the handful of beat reporters covering the FCC the more technical it gets, but communications reporters tend to get the general outlines of the debates beat into them in the course of doing the job day in and day out.

With certain exceptions, these details are also beyond the grasp of members of Congress as well — and in all fairness to MOCs, they have to consider every single issue that comes before them, many of which are far more important, whereas members of the trade press get to specialize in just a few areas.

But sometimes an MOC who does not have a special interest in the minutiae of communications legislation and regulation will use a hearing to pursue a ridiculous and uninformed line of questioning to the point that you can sense the combined and unfulfilled desire of the entire press area to leap up as one and offer a point of information so that the proceeding can return to reality.

The FCC employs people with technical expertise, and it gives interested parties ample time to comment, offer proposals of their own and even meet with commissioners and key staff. It puts proposals out for public comment. It then votes on them.

Politics is inevitably intertwined with many of the things the FCC deals with. At the moment, there is a Democrat in the White House, giving Democrats a 3-2 advantage on the FCC 8th Floor and ultimately winding up in FCC passage of net neutrality. Back in the summer of 2003, there was a Republican in the White House, and as a result, Republicans had a 3-2 8th Floor advantage, resulting in broadcast ownership deregulation.
The courts and politics undid much of the broadcast deregulation attempt, and the same fate may well be in store for the network neutrality regulation.

But changing the FCC process, whatever people think it actually is, won’t change a thing.