House Telecom Panel Examines FCC Legislation

July 12, 2013

At a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Thursday on “Improving the FCC Process,” lawmakers discussed the reintroduction of H.R. 3309 and H.R. 3310, which would change various FCC processes.  The bill passed the House last year only to die in the Senate.

The proposed changes were met with varying degrees of resistance from the panelists.  Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden addressed the goals of the legislation in his opening statement.  According to the Chairman, the reforms seek to minimize the potential for procedural abuse and failings.  Commentators like former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, did not comment on some of the substantive issues in the bills, but endorsed issues like the consolidation of FCC reports, which could improve efficiency and productivity.

The counterarguments against the bills, however, raised some important issues.  Critics like Stuart Benjamin, a professor at Duke Law School, highlighted that the bills would introduce unprecedented proceedings that would result in increased litigation.  He and others, like Richard Pierce of the George Washington University Law School, also warned that the rules could unnecessarily take away important power from the Commission by constraining its ability to review mergers and enact regulations that protect consumers.

The substance of the bills will likely enjoy some attention and debate within the Committee, and may make it to a vote on the House floor.  However, H.R. 3309 and H.R. 3310 would still have to overcome the major hurdle that doomed them last year: the Senate.  Though Representatives like Anna Eshoo agree with certain provisions in the bills, like the abolition of the cumbersome “Sunshine Rules,” they will likely be reluctant to take up a bill that does not have a clear path to the White House.

The FCC maintains an important role in in America’s vibrant telecommunications industry.  Any bill that increases efficiency and productivity within the Commission should be applauded.  However, Congress should alsoa be careful that it does not hobble the important authority of the FCC, which has succeeded in fostering investment of over $80 billion per year in the telecommunications sector since 1996.

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