House Dems to FCC: Belay Action on Controversial Items

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As expected, top House Energy & Commerce Committee Democrats sent FCC chairman Ajit Pai and Federal Trade Commission chairman Joseph Simons "pens down" letters Tuesday (Nov. 10), asking them to stop working on "partisan or controversial' items currently under consideration given the outcome of the presidential election, by which they meant Joe Biden's victory still being challenged by President Trump.

“We note that you have previously welcomed calls from congressional leaders for the FCC to ‘halt further action on controversial items during the transition period.’ We hope you will respect this time-honored tradition now," said House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.).

In the letter to both Pai and Simons, they should feel free to act quickly on consensus items.

Read More: Blumenthal Threatens Hold on Simington FCC Nomination 

But as for issues like Sec. 230 reform, for example (though they did not specify any controversial items), they said: "With the results of the 2020 presidential election now apparent, leadership of the FCC will undoubtedly be changing. As a traditional part of the peaceful transfer of power—and as part of our oversight responsibilities—we strongly urge the agency to only pursue consensus and administrative matters that are non-partisan for the remainder of your tenure."

The letter came at about the same time that Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) was threatening to block the nomination of Nathan Simington to the FCC unless he recuses himself from any vote on Sec. 230 reform whenever it happens.

Pai has signaled he was going to circulate an item on Sec. 230.

Read More: Simington Takes Center Stage in Hearing 

“I welcome the letter from chairman Pallone and chairman Doyle," said FCC commissioner and likely candidate for chair in a Biden Administration. "Historically, the FCC has honored the transfer of power from one Administration to the next by pausing any controversial activity. I urge FCC chairman Ajit Pai to follow this past practice in order to ensure an orderly transition of agency affairs. I look forward to continuing to work on the routine and consensus matters currently before the agency.”

"As two of my Republican colleagues observed in 2016, it is long-standing Commission practice that, upon a presidential transition, the agency suspends its consideration of any partisan, controversial items until the transition period is complete," said fellow Democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks. "Our congressional leaders have called for chairman Pai to respect this precedent, and I expect that he will abide by their request.”

John Eggerton

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.