Senate Commerce Delays FCC Reauthorization Bill Markup

The Senate Commerce Committee has postponed a March 16 markup and vote on the FCC reauthorization bill introduced by Committee chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) last week.

Thune only introduced the bill last week and had wasted no time in teeing up the vote.

An industry source suggested the reason for the postponement appeared to be a wealth of amendments that were to be proposed, suggesting issues with the bill on the other side of the aisle.

A committee source confirmed the postponement: "Consideration of the bill will be postponed to facilitate an opportunity for the chairman and ranking member to find a consensus way forward among the committee membership."

They did not give a timetable for a new markup.

The FCC has not been reauthorized in almost a quarter century, and Thune said it was about time. Authorization bills establish, or reestablish as in this case, a federal agency, a chance to modify the terms under which it operates and how funds may be spent.

The bill would reauthorize the FCC for only two years, including funding for the spectrum auction.

It also:

"Provides Clarity for Commissioners’ Terms of Offices for Vacancies. Fixes a legal ambiguity in current statute by clarifying, via technical correction, that all commissioners, whether appointed to a full five-year term or to fill a vacancy that occurs during a term, may remain at the FCC beyond a term’s expiration. This is the 'holdover' period in which Commissioner Rosenworcel is currently serving.   

"Conforms FCC Transparency to Independent Agency Best Practices. Independent agencies like the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Surface Transportation Board, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, provide Congress with key documents they share with the Administration (e.g., budget submissions). The bill would require the same of the FCC, bringing its transparency level in line with other agencies. 

"Examines Regulatory Fee Fairness. In light of the dramatically changed communications landscape, the current FCC regulatory fee structure, in place since 1994, fails to reflect today’s landscape accurately or proportionally. The bill takes a step toward modernizing the FCC’s regulatory fee structure by requiring a Government Accountability Office report that must include an analysis of whether the current fee structure correlates to the actual workload of the FCC.

"Avoids Disrupting E-rate Funding. Effectively prevents Universal Service Fund (USF) funding commitments from being suspended due to the Antideficiency Act (ADA), ensuring that broadband services (E-rate in particular) across the nation will continue unimpeded. An ADA exemption has been temporarily extended on appropriations measures for a decade. The bill extends the exemption through FY2018, ensuring that the Congressional authorizing committees will appropriately review the need for extending the exemption as part of the agency’s next reauthorization.

"Streamlines FCC Spectrum Deposits. Requires that any deposits the FCC may require for the qualification of any person to bid in a spectrum auction shall be deposited in the Treasury. This provision was previously favorably reported by the Senate Commerce Committee as S. 2319, in December 2015.

"Prevents Disruption of Rural Communications. A 2004 USF Joint Board recommendation included limiting USF funds to only a single line per household. This could threaten USF support for wireline providers to serve households that subscribe to a USF-supported wireless provider, and a temporary prohibition blocking the FCC from implementing this recommendation has been included in appropriations measures for a decade. The bill would make this prohibition permanent."

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.