Senate Commerce Passes Bipartisan FCC Reauthorization

The Senate Commerce Committee favorably reported out two FCC-related bills Wednesday, plus a third on the Internet of Things.

An FCC reauthorization bill passed unanimously after a raft of potentially controversial amendments were withdrawn, including ones offered by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would have taken aim at new communications policies toward Cuba and put a crimp in the FCC's ability to preempt state laws limiting municipal broadband.

Commerce chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said he had worked for a bipartisan and noncontroversial bill and felt he had achieved it. Ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) agreed and co-sponsored the bill, though he asked for and got Thune's assurance that he would continue to try and keep controversial measures from being introduced as it moved toward a floor vote.

Among the noncontroversial amendments added to the FCC's reauthorization were ones requiring 1) a report on the incentive auction repack; 2) that the Inspector General file semiannual reports to both Congress and the FCC; and 3) GAO reports on whether the FCC's regulatory fee structure has an outsized effect on small payers and one on waste and overbuilding in the E-rate program.

Thune pointed out that the FCC had not been re-authorized in a quarter century and it was past time to rectify that.

Re-authorization reestablishes an agency and is an opportunity to put new requirements on it. Keeping the bill relatively free of those was what secured bipartisan agreement and Nelson said it was the opportunity to include controversial provisions that was behind that 25-year lag since the re-authorization.

Also approved was the FCC Process Reform Act, though that was opposed by the Democrats, including an amendment, which was approved, that requires the FCC to publish any changes made to an item after it is adopted by the FCC.

Also passed on a bipartisan basis was S. 2607, the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act, which would direct the FCC to "issue a notice of inquiry assessing the spectrum needs required to support the Internet of Things. It would also convene a working group of both federal and private entity stakeholders that would provide recommendations to Congress."

“We applaud the Commerce Committee’s approval of these important measures, and in particular thank Chairman Thune and Ranking Member Nelson for reporting a bill that would reauthorize the FCC for the first time in more than a quarter of a century," said USTelecom in a statement. "USTelecom has long advocated reinstitution of the reauthorization process to give Congress and the FCC a regular means of clarifying Congress’ intent with regard to its delegation of authority. We also believe the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act will improve agency accountability and efficiency, and thank Senator Heller for his leadership on this initiative.”

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.