Dingell Opens Probe of Martin’s FCC

Washington – House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) on Monday announced that he is investigating Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin’s management of the agency for at least the past year.

Dingell evidently decided to go forward just days after Martin came under fire for withholding from his FCC colleagues data that did not support Martin’s conclusion about the scope of cable industry’s subscriber penetration. Martin and his colleagues battled for hours behind closed doors, forcing the agency to start its monthly public meeting just after 9 p.m., almost a 12-hour delay.

“Give several events and proceedings over the past year, I am rapidly losing confidence that the [FCC] has been conducting its affairs in an appropriate manner,” Dingell said in a three-page letter to Martin.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the Dingell letter.

The probe, Dingell said, will be conducted by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation under Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), not by the Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee under Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) Markey’s panel has regulatory oversight of the FCC. Dingell is an ex officio member of both panels.

Dingell said he was concerned that Martin has been “short-circuiting procedural norms, suggesting a larger breakdown at the agency.” He suggested that Martin had failed to give both the public at large and his colleagues at the agency sufficient time to review important details embedded in proposed rules.

Dingell’s criticisms of Martin were mostly general. One specific reference he made related to Martin’s failed effort at the agency’s Nov. 27 meeting to win support for a finding that cable operators had dominant market power, justifying strong regulatory medicine for the industry.

Dingell’s letter noted that FCC Republican member Robert McDowell and FCC Democratic member Jonathan Adelstein refused to accept Martin’s cable data, accusing Martin of withholding data that contradicted his belief that cable has at least 70% subscriber penetration.

“Most recently, your colleagues alleged that relevant data was withheld from public view in order to influence a vote in your favor,” Dingell explained. “Taken as a whole, these events lead to larger concerns as to the inclination and ability of the [FCC] to perform its core mission: the implementation of federal law to serve the public interest.”

Dingell gave Martin until Dec. 10 to respond to a series of questions. Some of the questions asked for specific commitments from Martin that he will give the public and his FCC colleagues more timely access to data and proposed regulations. He also wanted Martin to promise to provide “adequate notice” on the scheduling of the FCC’s monthly public meeting.