O'Rielly: FCC Should Expect Tougher Oversight From GOP Congress

FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly says that the "deep deference" he suggests the Democrat-controlled Senate has accorded the Obama administration is a "thing of the past," which means there will be tougher scrutiny of federal agencies, including the FCC.

Speaking to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Telecom and E-Commerce Committee meeting Nov. 17 in Washington, O'Rielly said he wanted to talk about the "elephant in the room," and he didn't mean network neutrality.

Actually he was talking about elephants plural, and the room was the Senate chamber that will be controlled by Republicans once the new Congress is seated.

"I expect that the new Congress will be very active on communications-related issues. My experiences from the last time Republicans controlled both institutions," he said referring to his time as a former Hill staffer, "suggest that considerable time will be spent by the committees of jurisdiction considering how best to modify current law to reflect modern technology and the competitive marketplace or marketplace realities.

"Call it a rewrite, an update, or just a modernization effort; everything is on the table right now. And, as many of you may recall, the 1996 Telecom Act was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by a democratic president."

The House Energy & Commerce Committee is hoping to start work on a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act in the new Congress. O'Rielly was in the room when the 1996 Act was being hammered out.

"I also expect that the new Congress will focus significant time conducting oversight of federal departments and agencies," he said. "The deep deference provided to this administration is probably a thing of the past. That means greater review of the Commission's internal workings and scrutiny of its decisions."

O'Rielly and his fellow Republican commissioner, Ajit Pai, have been critical of how some of those decisions have been made, including saying they have not gotten much lead time on some items, or changes in those items, and complaining that their input has not been included on others.

"Expect more oversight hearings to allow members to express their views and examine issues closer," he said.

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.