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FCC Will Help Hill Draft Title II Rate-Regs Ban

WASHINGTON — Among the more interesting exchanges in a Nov. 17 Federal Communications Commission oversight hearing was one between agency chairman Tom Wheeler and Ohio Republican Rep. Bill Johnson, in which Wheeler essentially agreed to help draft a provision he does not support.

Republicans have put a rider on an appropriations bill that would explicitly prevent the FCC from regulating broadband rates. Wheeler has said the FCC wouldn’t do that under its new Title II authority, but Republicans want to ensure that.

During his questioning of the FCC commissioners, Johnson alluded to the rider, which he said would be a ban on the FCC’s use of its Title II authority to regulate ISP rates. When Appropriations Committee staff sought technical assistance from the FCC in drafting the provision — after Wheeler had publicly declared the rules were not about rate regulation — “the FCC refused to provide Congress with the benefit of [his] expertise,” Johnson said.

He called it “completely inappropriate” for the FCC not to provide that expertise. As to when it would be provided, Wheeler said he was “unaware of the situation,” then tried to add that he thought it was unnecessary to put “that kind of rider” on an appropriations bill, before being cut off by Johnson, who said that was “not his call.”

“Are you going to provide the information?” Johnson asked again, then again as Wheeler repeated that he was unaware of the situation.

A rather testy Wheeler responded: “It’s not hard to figure out how to draft it. Yes sir.”

In a press conference following the FCC’s public meeting, on a different topic that came up in the hearing, Wheeler joked that “yes” was usually the best answer to give in oversight hearings.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.