With Republicans back on top in the House big time, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will likely have to either find a way to clarify the commission’s broadband authority under the existing Title I information service regime, or wait for Congress to weigh in.
The FCC’s lawyers have been working on various scenarios, including Title I and Title II options, according to commission and industry sources, though all options are said to remain on the table.
That said, the FCC is unlikely to push for a vote on Title II reclassification this year in any event, given that it won’t have finished collecting input on some net neutrality issues until later this month. Plus, Republicans have a united front against it.
With one election out of the way, the race has already begun for committee chairmanships; Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) are high-profile contenders for chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) is a strong candidate to take over from Rick Boucher (DVa.), current chair of the House Communications Subcommittee, who was one of the senior Democrats unseated last week. Walden took a leave of absence from the committee during the campaign, but could well return as subcommittee chairman, according to Hill sources.
Barton has already pledged muscular oversight of the FCC, with an aide to the congressman telling B&C to look for hearings on the planned revamp of the Universal Service Fund, network neutrality rules and reclassification and the broadband stimulus buildouts, particularly if there is insuffiicient funding to monitor them for waste, fraud and abuse. Upton has been equally vocal about reining in the FCC’s network neutrality regulatory impulses.
Agony of Defeat
Boucher’s defeat was a blow to fair use fans and the tech industry, and removes a friend of broadcasters. Boucher was co-chair of the House Internet Caucus, co-sponsor of privacy and Universal Service Reform legislation, and of a bill that tried to insure that if the FCC reclaims spectrum from broadcasters, it can only do so voluntarily.
The exit of Boucher may make it easier for former Communications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to return to the committee. He has been heading up a special energy committee, but there has been talk on the Hill that he might want to move back. That would be welcome news for net neutrality fans, given Markey’s strong stands for open Internet legislation, though with a Republican majority it would be tough for him to do more than carry the standard.
Whoever takes over the committees, there will likely continue to be ongoing attention—in the form of hearings on existing legislation at least—paid to online privacy and spectrum bills, given the bipartisan interest in both.
But with a split between Senate and House control, there could be more talk than action on telecom policy. “The Obama Administration may not want to put a lot of political capital into telecom,” says Michael Mandel, editor-in-chief of Visible Economy. “That’s especially true if the economy stays weak, since telecom is one of the few innovative, growing sectors.”
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