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Democats Take Aim at FCC

House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said he expected the FCC commissioners to be "frequent guests" of the committee, while Energy & Commerce Chairman John Dingell said it might have to be once a month to keep the commission on task.

That came in an FCC oversight hearing Wednesday, where Markey said he wanted the FCC to improve its data collection on broadband deployment--Martin said the FCC was working on it--saying ubiquitous, affordable broadband is an "overarching goal."

Markey also called for better data on media ownership issues. Martin pointed to the 10 media ownership studies the FCC has commissioned.

Saying he would not dwell on the issues of "Internet freedom" and "network neutrality," Markey still called it an "indispensable policy to the future of the Web."

As expected, Democrats hammered on the commission over various issues, including its decision to grant video franchise relief, its approval of the AT&T/Bell South merger, and FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's management style.

Dingell said he thought the FCC had exceeded its authority in the video franchise order by preempting local authority granted by Congress, reminding the commissioners that their agency is not an arm of the administration, and saying that the FCC had lost sight of its proper role, which he said was not good for consumers.

Dingell also cited what he said was the FCC's "disturbing" tendency to vote, then not release the final order for months. "Regulating by press release is a curious way to interpret the Administrative Procedures Act.

Martin said the FCC's decision to loosen franchise rules and ease telco entry into cable service was to provide competition to cable, whose rates he said had risen disproportionately.

Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) was the hardest on FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, saying she had heard complaints that the commission had been "unresponsive, insular, and capricious" in its decisionmaking, not to mention "heavyhanded and nontransparent."  She pointed to the AT&T/Bell South merger decision as an example, saying Martin had coined a new word, "unrecused," and saying attempts to force Commissioner Robert McDowell to participate in the merger was "troubling."