Ranking House Oversight Committee Member Says FCC Lacks Transparency On Broadband Hires

The FCC has been collecting reams of data on broadband-related questions it has posed, but one legislator is turning the tables and calling on the FCC to provide him some answers.

Darrell Issa (R-CA), ranking member of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, has accused the FCC of a "lack of transparency" about who it has enlisted to help draw up the national broadband plan and has asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for some answers.

In a letter to the chairman, a copy of which was supplied to B&C, Issa says that he is particularly concerned about temporary positions "held at the FCC by lobbyists and industry insiders." He identifies three examples of senior staff appointments announced last August and says that employees "on leave from companies and lobbying firms invested in or interested in broadband development increases the potential for conflict of interest and unfair influence."

The broadband plan has been the FCC's top prioirity since the switch to digital. It is headed by Blair Levin.  He also said the organization and responsibilities of staffers working on the plan "remain unclear."

Issa cites President Obama's call for more openness and transparency, though he is preaching to the choir if Genachowski's own frequent statements about openness, not to mention the FCC broadband workshops and requests for comment and field hearings and online efforts to prompt input and discussion, are any indication.

But some broadcasters feeling pressured to return spectrum to the government see an FCC thumb on the scale for wireless. "Why should an iPhone app get favored treatment over a TV station," says one veteran broadcast group head who spoke on background.

Issa has requested that the chairman deliver by Dec. 22 a list of "all staff" working on the plan, including their title and "background," as well as an organizational chart with reporting structure, and a list specifically of limited-term employees. He also wants a written answer from the chairman on how employees were vetted for their posts and what consideration was given to possible conflict of interest.

The FCC had no comment.

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.