Newly empowered and embolded thanks to the election of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, ranking members of the House and Senate — along with Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai — called on the FCC to ice all of their efforts surrounding “controversial items” by enforcing a regulatory freeze.
In the latest fight against FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, whose days are numbered now that Trump will take office in January, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) sent a letter to Wheeler specifically requesting that the body halt all possible decisions during the presidential transition.
Upton and Walden write, “The most important challenge for the Commission over the next ten weeks is to ensure a successful broadcast incentive auction. The successful completion of the auction will provide needed spectrum to meet Americans wireless broadband needs and ensure that Americans continue to enjoy the local news and national programming broadcasters provide. As Rep. Henry Waxman and Sen. Jay Rockefeller noted during the 2008 presidential transition, it would be counterproductive for the FCC to consider complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new administration will have an interest in reviewing. We strongly urge you to concentrate the Commission’s attention and resources only on matters that require action under the law and efforts to foster the success of the broadcast incentive auction.”
Upton and Walden were joined by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. In his own letter to Chairman Wheeler, Thune pleaded with the agency to stop work on controversial new orders that could create confusion if reversed and would be subject to review next year.
“I strongly urge the FCC to avoid directing its attention and resources in the coming months to complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing,” said Thune, who suggested that the commission instead focus on items that can achieve bipartisan support.
Whether or not that is possible is up to Chairman Wheeler, and Democratic Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel (who could end up exiting the FCC in January) and Mignon Clyburn.
In response, Pai — who is the leading candidate to succeed Wheeler as FCC Chairman — issued a statement giving his thumbs up to the letters from the House members and from Sen. Thune, saying he welcomed them both.
He noted that then-FCC Chairman Kevin Martin abided by the request from Rep. Waxman and Sen. Rockefeller to not consider “complex and controversial items” that the new Congress and new administration will have an interest in reviewing.
That means withdrawing the four major items on the November meeting agenda — most of which relate to non-radio industry items.
Fellow Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly also chimed in, stating, “During the last presidential transition, the Commission Chairman wisely heeded the will of Congress in setting aside any remaining controversial agenda items for the next Congress and Administration to consider. I thank the current leadership of both Senate and House Commerce Committees for calling this precedent to everyone’s attention today, and expect that Chairman Wheeler will honor their request.”
The following items are tentatively on the agenda for the November Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Thursday, November 17, 2016:
Mobility Fund: The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would adopt rules for the second phase of the Mobility Fund, which would provide ongoing universal service support dedicated to expanding the availability of mobile broadband networks. (WT Docket No. 10-208; WC Docket No. 10-90)
Roaming Obligations of Commercial Mobile Service Providers and Regulatory Classification of Voice over LTE Service: The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would seek comment on proposals to implement a unified roaming standard and to classify Voice over LTE. (WT Docket No. 16-356)
Business Data Services: The Commission will consider a Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would allow for light-touch regulation of packet-based Business Data Services and retain and update price cap regulation for lower-bandwidth TDM-based Business Data Services to ensure that lack of competition does not unfairly harm commercial customers or the consumers who rely upon these services. (WC Docket Nos. 16-143, 15-247, 05-25; GN Docket No. 13-5; RM-10593)
Video Description: Implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010: The Commission will consider a Report and Order which addresses the amount of video described programming required to be made available to consumers. (MB Docket No. 11-43)