Washington: Meeting, markup and nomination hearing


The powers that be with an interest in the communications world inside the Beltway have an active week. The FCC Commissioners will hold their November Open Meeting, the House Communications Subcommittee has a markup and the two new FCC nominees will meet the Senate Commerce Committee. Also, House Republicans plan a committee vote on FCC reform, with markup starting Tuesday afternoon.

The FCC Open Meeting is scheduled for the morning of 11/30/11, and includes two agenda items of little or no interest to broadcasters.

The Senate Commerce Committee will meet Democratic FCC nominee Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican nominee Ajit Pai on the afternoon of 11/30/11. Early betting appears to be on an easy passage through the Senate for the pair with the exception of Charles Grassley (R-IA) who is using the pair as hostages in an unrelated dispute with the FCC.

The House Subcommittee on Communications is taking up its version of a spectrum bill on Thursday 12/1/11, according to a report in The Hill. This comes after possible action on the issue died along with everything else tied to the failure of the Select Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction. Although details of the plan, to be considered under the gavel of Greg Walden (R-OR), weren’t released, we expect the sticking point on the issue will be how spectrum is allocated for establishment of a nationwide interoperable public safety communications system for first responders. Republicans generally have favored auctioning spectrum to be made available to public safety organization as needed, and Democrats – importantly including Senate Commerce Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) – want dedicated spectrum set aside, regardless of the loss of income since there would be no auction tied to the block.

Broadcasters want to make sure their own service is not damaged while all of these other issues are sorted out, and have a possible opportunity to provide new services; wireless companies on the other hand want to grab as much spectrum in the television band as possible.

Meanwhile, the full House Energy and Commerce Committee intends to bring up a pair of bills concerning the reformation of FCC processes, along with other bills, starting Tuesday 11/29/11 at 4:30 and picking up again the following morning. Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) released an item stating, “H.R. 3309, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act, and H.R. 3310, the Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act – bills to reform the processes by which the FCC operates. These bills will increase transparency, predictability, and consistency as part of Republicans’ ongoing effort to ensure the commission’s work encourages job creation, investment, and innovation.”

RBR-TVBR observation: Democrats do not believe the FCC is in serious need of reform, at least along the lines House Republicans have proposed, and we suspect neither key Dems John Kerry (D-MA), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) nor Harry Reid (D-NV) will have any strong motivation to push companion legislation to the House bill through the Senate.

However, when push comes to shove in reconciliation, when the House and Senate iron out the differences between similar legislation and try to finalize it for a trip to the Oval Office, anything might become a bargaining chip. So despite what we suspect are slim odds for final success, the fact remains that anything can happen on Capitol Hill. So stay tuned.