Republican leadership in the House Communications Subcommittee spent a great deal of time in 2011 working on a bill to increase transparency and decrease autonomy at the Federal Communications Commission. Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), getting ready to do more work on it, noted the close ties between the FCC and the White House.
The bill contains language that would make it easier to commissioners to meet with one another in private, which will be welcomed by all concerned.
However, much of the bill is seen by the opposition party as a reaction by House Republicans against an FCC led by Democrats, pursuing policy they disagree with. The proceeding on network neutrality is one area of dissension. Republicans in general have serious problems with the way the FCC goes about merger review, particularly when it comes to applying conditions in order for the proponents to gain approval.
Walden told reporters he expects a full overhaul of the bill early in February. According to Hillicon Valley, he also said, “It’s beginning to feel like it’s another tool of the White House.”
Democrats have no problems with many of the elements in the bill, but do oppose other portions. And a late amendment regarding network neutrality is considered to be a poison pill which full committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) warned will doom the bill in the Senate.
RBR-TVBR observation: Speaking not about policy, but just about political speech, we have to wonder, are politicians allowed to just say anything? Let’s take this apart. The party that has the White House gets the majority on the FCC. The president picks the FCC Chairman. And amazingly enough, the reigning policy at the FCC is similar to that of the White House! How did they figure that out? And we’re not picking on the current Congress – it was the same when Kevin Martin was in the hot seat.
Martin was accused of kowtowing to big business, giving them anything they want, and doing so in secrecy. His response was to set in motion a number of new FCC policies to increase openness and transparency.
When the issue of media ownership came up, he avoided the mistakes of his predecessor Michael Powell and held numerous public forums on the topic at locations all over the nation; he provided months for public commentary; he requisition and published academic studies on the topic.
In the end, he noted the preponderance of opinion that there was already too much media consolidation and proposed very gentle relaxation of cross-ownership rules. And he got slammed again.
Here’s a news bulletin: Of course the FCC is aligned with and a tool of the White House. That’s the way the system is set up. We have yet to see a chairman who could remain above the political fray, because the work of the FCC is often entwined in the political process.
Michael Powell had the right idea about this, by the way. He knew that he was not an elected official – he was a step removed, the pick of an elected official. He said he would much rather execute the law as passed by Congress than undertake a rulemaking, and often asked Congress to tell him what to do.
Easier said than done, of course, be we think members of both parties would do better to write communications law rather than to accuse the FCC of working to forward the policies of the party which controls its majority.