E&C subcommittee digs into the FCC


Generally, Ed Markey’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet handles FCC matters, but this time it is the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations that wants every document, phone log, travel log, email and what have you, from each commissioner, top exec and bureau chief. It’s all part of the probe into FCC operations promised by Chairs John Dingell (D-MI) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) several months back. But before labeling this a partisan project, note that Ranking Members Joe Barton (R-TX) and John Shimkus (R-IL) are signed on to it as well.

The request deepens the ongoing probe, which is "investigating allegations from current and former FCC employees and other sources, which we have reason to believe are credible," the quartet said in a letter to Martin. "These allegations relate to management practices that may adversely affect the Commission’s ability both to discharge effectively its statutory duties and to guard against waste, fraud and abuse."

It asks for communications relating to 12 separate topics, including the delay/postponement in reporting to Congress, setting agenda items, opening meetings and publishing in the Federal Register; guidelines on internal FCC communications; guidelines on routine practices; FCC policy on communication between employees and outside entities (like Congress); details of executive reassignments; audits of telecommunications carriers; decisions to discard or change a 2004 report on video programming; the decision to withdraw an enhanced 911 report; a decision on compensation for video relay services; anything concerning 10 media studies, including how authors and peer reviewers were chosen; the decision on which commissioner would attend the World Radiocommunication Conference in Geneva, Switzerland; and the FCC’s analysis of the 70/so-called 70 test. And more.

RBR/TVBR observation: We have watched Chairman Martin take extraordinary steps to provide transparency over the past year or two. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. Do special interests have too much access to the Commission?

Should we be surprised if it seems that Martin brings a political agenda to his job? He is, after all, a political appointee. We believe he should get credit for trying to strike a balance, as indicated by the extraordinary fact that he has managed to rile members of his own Republican party nearly as much as he has riled Democrats.

And on at least one key count, Congress can help. Commissioners from both parties, led by Michael Copps (D), have been pleading with Congress to allow them to engage in conversations with one another over agenda items for the first time in years. But unless and until they install facilities in Chairman Martin’s office so that Chairman Dingell can monitor his activities, there is going to be a certain amount of activity that happens beyond the reach of the public eye.

There is also one more thing to consider. The ownership rules are on a merry-go-round which is seemingly geared to a cycle of perpetual motion. The FCC writes the rules; they are challenged in court as both too loose and too restrictive; the courts shoot them down, not necessarily because they too loose or too restrictive, but because they are arbitrary and capricious. So the FCC writes them again, they are challenged, and the court sends them back. Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

Maybe the processes at the Commission need changing, and maybe they don’t. But we wouldn’t pin the blame on Martin