House, Senate Hold Hearings On FCC Issues Today
July 12, 2016 at 10:34 AM (PT)
The FCC was busy TODAY on CAPITOL HILL with hearings in both the House and Senate.
Chairman TOM WHEELER and Commissioners MIGNON CLYBURN, JESSICA ROSENWORCEL, AJIT PAI, and MIKE O'RIELLY appeared at an FCC oversight hearing before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee. While the memo for the hearing described a "bitterly divided along partisan lines" FCC and warned that the agency is "contemplating a novel, onerous, and ineffective vision of consumer privacy now that the Commission has reclassified the Internet as a common-carrier – thus removing the Internet from the successful FTC-based privacy regime," the actual hearing concentrated mostly on the TV set-top box issue and debates over whether the lifeline program is beset with fraud, as Commissioner PAI has suggested; PAI was grilled by Ranking Member ANNA ESHOO (D-CA) on whether his research had turned up actual fraud or was counting multi-resident buildings as one household for purposes of finding fraudulent duplicative applications (PAI responded that the study had not yet been completed).
In his prepared comments, WHEELER, who preceded his live remarks with birthday wishes for ROSENWORCEL, claimed that the Commission is making "strong progress on our policy agenda" and recapped recent FCC developments, and previewed the Commission's upcoming tasks, including working on "next-generation 911," cybersecurity, and, responding to a concern of the panel, pirate radio, about which he said, "We don't just want to do more to combat pirate radio, we want to do it smarter... we would welcome Congress' help in doing even more." At the panel, WHEELER trumpeted the incentive spectrum auction's opening and broadcasters' participation therein, and the coming definition on THURSDAY of high-band 5G spectrum, the first country to do so, which he said will give the U.S. "home field advantage" for higher-speed wireless broadband.
O'RIELLY's prepared remarks covered lifeline fraud, waste, and abuse, the set-top box debate, broadband privacy, and, most significantly for broadcasters, media ownership, reiterating his contention that the Commission should be "removing outdated restrictions to media combinations" but is rather "moving away from the goal of tailoring our rules to the reality of today's diverse, competitive media marketplace." He also added a topic to the agenda, spectrum fees and the need to enact fees when spectrum like the 3.5 GHz band is shared, but at the hearing, O'RIELLY was mostly called upon to discuss process issues, including a moment to refer to his blog post of last week outlining 24 process reform proposals.
CLYBURN, in her prepared testimony, concentrated on lifeline and broadband issues and called for transparency in charges for home phone, internet, and pay-TV services. ROSENWORCEL's testimony focused on the emergency 911 system and the need for it to be updated for technological changes and on her work on the "homework gap," the lack of access for some students to essential Internet educational resources.
Subcommittee chair GREG WALDEN (R-OR) voiced that concern about the lack of changes in ownership rules in his opening remarks, and WALDEN also said that he has been told that the FCC majority has voted to approve the proposed ownership rules. O'RIELLY said that the results would be released "soon enough" and are even more "prescriptive" than the proposal circulated by WHEELER.
but ESHOO concentrated her opening on the set-top box, special access reform, and lifeline program issues. Rep. MIKE DOYLE (D-PA) urged the Commission to work together on special access, privacy, and set-top box solutions. Rep. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN) said she would also focus on the set-top box issue with an eye towards protecting content, which she later reiterated in questions directed at WHEELER, while Rep. FRANK PALLONE (D-NJ) read remarks about the open internet ruling but called for attention to online privacy concerns and challenged Republican charges of fraud in the lifeline program, announcing results of a study he said refuted the fraud allegations. Rep. YVETTE CLARKE (D-NY) raised the issue of minority voices in the media, saying that "we are not doing enough" to ensure that minority concerns are addressed by the Commission in its actions and deliberations and asking WHEELER to follow up on the issue.
At the same time, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on the FCC's privacy proposals for broadband ISPs, with the witness list not including any FCC members.