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Sen. Thune Asks FCC's Wheeler to Avoid Controversial Votes

There is a new sheriff in town, or will be soon, and Hill Republicans are echoing their Democratic counterparts from eight years ago that the FCC should not vote any controversial items between now and Inauguration Day (Jan. 20), when Republican Donald Trump takes the oath of office.

The FCC has now heard from both sides of the Hill, at least Republicans on both sides, that it should focus on wrapping up current projects, with consensus support, rather than vote any new controversial regulatory proposals -- among the most prominent of the latter are business data services (BDS) revamps -- scheduled for a vote Nov. 17 -- and a set-top box "unlocking" proposal that is currently on circulation but has shown no signs of being voted on as yet.

Related: Hill GOP Leaders Officially Ask Wheeler to Ramp It Down

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Tuesday wrote FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to send that message. He did not suggest canceling the Nov. 17 public meeting and even said there were some items the FCC could deal with. He didn't say what items those were, though he did say "consensus items," which would exclude the BDS item that is opposed by the Republican commissioners.

"Leadership of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will soon change," Thune wrote. "Congressional oversight of the execution of our nation's communications policies will continue. Any action taken by the FCC following the November 8, 2016, will receive particular scrutiny. I strongly urge the FCC to avoid directing its attention and resources in the coming months to complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing.

Related: FCC's Wheeler Gets Pushback on Continued Agenda Push

"There are certainly many consensus and administrative matters on which the Commission can instead focus its energies to conclude, including several items currently on the agenda for the Open Meeting scheduled to occur on November 17, 2016."

The chairs of the House Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee also sent a letter cautioning against action on controversial items.

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“During the last presidential transition, the Commission Chairman wisely heeded the will of Congress in setting aside any remaining controversial agenda items for the next Congress and Administration to consider," said Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly of the letters from both House and Senate Republicans. "I thank the current leadership of both Senate and House Commerce Committees for calling this precedent to everyone’s attention today, and expect that Chairman Wheeler will honor their request.”

"I welcome the letter from Chairman Fred Upton of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Chairman Greg Walden of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and the letter from Chairman John Thune of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee calling on the FCC to halt further action on controversial items during the transition period," said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who is likely to be at least interim chairman once Donald Trump takes the oath of office.

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"Eight years ago, then-Senator John Rockefeller and then-Representative Henry Waxman called on the FCC not to consider “complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest in reviewing. Then-Chairman Kevin Martin abided by their request. I hope Chairman Wheeler follows his example and honors the wishes of our congressional leaders, including by withdrawing the four major items on the November meeting agenda."

The chairman's office has seen the House letter and is reviewing it. There was no one available to comment at press time on the Thune letter, but it makes a similar request.