Sen. Thune: Wheeler Has Used Info as Political Weapon

Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said Thursday that he was going to have a hard-hitting opening statement for the FCC oversight hearing. He was not overstating the case.

Thune took aim at FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, accusing him of using information as a partisan weapon.

He cited 25 3-2 votes under Wheeler, saying that was far more than the total over the previous 20 years (14). Wheeler pointed out that 90% of the votes were unanimous and also said that there were at least a couple of votes where the 3-2 was not party line, citing the effective competition vote, for one, where he teamed with the two Republicans. But Thune said he was talking about public meeting votes, which the effective competition was not.

"Why does the current FCC continually advance divisive policies at the expense of certainty for consumers and innovators that only bipartisan solutions can offer," Thune asked rhetorically.

"Too often, we have seen conveniently-timed leaks and disclosures used as tools to benefit the partisan agenda," said the senator. "Treating all commissioners fairly and not using the disclosure of nonpublic information as a sword would lead to a better process at the agency, which in turn could only improve the Commission’s work product. While process issues at the FCC may seem to be just a minor transgression that can be chalked up to business as usual in Washington, D.C., in this case it illustrates a divisive leadership approach, which threatens to undermine the credibility of the agency now and into the future."

In his opening statement, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) suggested that the commission reflected the "highly charged partisan times" in Washington. He said administrative agencies "often reflect the times in which they are holding their hearings and votes."

Thune conceded that the committee also represents deeply held differences, but that they try to find consensus and hopes the FCC takes a similar approach. Nelson agreed that the committee has been able to cut through the partisanship on "issue after issue."

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.