House Republicans: FCC Process, Policy Concerns Intensify

House Republicans say their concerns about the decisions the FCC is making under FCC chairman Tom Wheeler—and how they are making them—"continue to mount" since the last time Wheeler appeared before them in March.

That is according to the majority staff memo for Tuesday's (July 28) FCC oversight hearing, which will feature Wheeler and senior Republican commissioner Ajit Pai.

In his prepared testimony, Pai said Republican commissioners continue to be "shut out of the process," particularly with regards to the upcoming broadcast incentive auction. Pai is opposed to repacking TV stations in the so-called "duplex gap" guard band in the wireless band after the auction, which would impair both the TV station and wireless signals. The FCC proposed that in order to be able to clear more spectrum for wireless.

The memo seconds Pai's process concerns. "[A]lthough FCC leadership has publicly committed to process reform on more than one occasion, 38 process failings persist," it says.

Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and parent Energy & Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have their own problems with the auction, also related to the duplex gap. They called on the FCC to delay its July 16 vote on putting stations in the gap and, while Wheeler did delay the vote until Aug. 6, he is still "recommending that the Commission adopt the duplex gap option," according to the memo.

And on another "gap" issue, the Republicans have other concerns.

The FCC's reclassification of broadband under Title II moved oversight of privacy issues from the Federal Trade Commission to the FCC. The commission is currently trying to come up with new rules, but in the interim "moved quickly to fill the regulatory gap it created and impose its own rules on the Internet" with an enforcement advisory.

"The Commission’s nullification of the FTC’s jurisdiction and entry into the sphere of consumer online privacy raises significant and immediate concerns beyond the legality of the majority’s reclassification of broadband internet service as a telecommunications service," they said.

Wheeler has signaled he will launch a rulemaking on establishing new rules and the FCC's privacy authority in the fall

A major concern is the FCC's signal in that advisory that, in the meantime, it will "scrutinize practices and hold broadband internet service providers liable notwithstanding the lack of established rules.."

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.