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House Hearings to Probe FCC ‘Abuse of Authority’

Washington — Nullifying the Federal Communications
Commission’s network-neutrality rules is high
on the communications and technology agenda of the
House Energy & Commerce Committee’s Communications
and Technology Subcommittee, according to a
background document on the “key issues.”

The document, obtained by Multichannel News, also
suggests the powerful subcommittee will be looking into
the “abuse of power and process” of the Comcast-NBC
Universal transaction review.

Republican committee chairman Fred Upton’s strategy
to block network-neutrality rules the FCC approved
Dec. 21 will be through a resolution of disapproval under
the Congressional Review Act, according to the document.
That legislative gambit requires a simple majority
in both chambers and can’t be filibustered in the Senate.

Upton has signaled that would be one of the committee’s
initial priorities under new Republican leadership. The
FCC’s two Republicans voted against the new regulations
and strongly opposed them in their dissenting statements.

Also on the docket for the committee are a “series of
hearings” on “the harm regulation of the Internet will
cause investment, innovations and jobs,” as well as the
FCC’s “abuse of authority and process.”

Also on the agenda for the committee is a bill that would
allow auctioning spectrum for broadband, which the document
says “might” include incentive auctions allowing the
proceeds to be shared with those, like broadcasters, who voluntarily
relinquish it.

Under the heading of FCC process reform, the briefing
paper said the agency has been criticized
as “slow, inefficient and less than
transparent,” and that “network neutrality
and the Comcast transaction”
are “the latest examples of abuse of
power and process.”

The backgrounder says the National
Telecommunications and Infrastructure
Administration’s oversight of the
broadband-stimulus funding program
is subject to “waste, fraud and
abuse.”

Also on the list of priorities is reform
of the Universal Service Fund,
which subsidizes landline telephone
service. Upton would support shifting
the fund’s support to broadband
service, as the FCC plans to do under
the National Broadband Plan, but only
“in exchange for substantial fiscal reform.”
The FCC has also recognized that the USF needs fiscal
reform.

The committee’s oversight of the Federal Trade Commission
will include its effort to obtain expanded authority,
which Republicans oppose, and industry criticism of the
“direction of the FTC’s regulatory priorities.”

Listed as other “possible” topics
for the committee’s consideration
are Internet privacy, cybersecurity
and content protection.

Upton and company have also
signaled they will hold hearings on
what they suggested last week has
been the FCC’s “abuse” of its powers.

“We do not comment on background
material prepared for
members and staff,” said committee
communications director
Alexa Marrero, “which is what
the document reflects.” She cautioned
against reading that document
as an agenda or prioirity list,
though network neutrality is a priority.
Additionally, she said hearings
would be soon, though none
have been scheduled.