Thune Asks Wheeler to Explain Compromise Collapse

Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) is investigating how the FCC's compromise Lifeline proposal fell apart and what role the possible disclosure by the FCC of nonpublic information played in that process.

In a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, Thune, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said events surrounding the FCC's March 31 meeting, at which the Lifeline proposal was voted, "raise new questions about the Commission's policies for the disclosure of nonpublic information."

The March 31 meeting was delayed for over three hours after the Republican-backed compromise was struck, and then fell apart after commissioner Mignon Clyburn concluded she could not support a cap on the Lifeline fund, which subsidizes advanced telecom to low-income residents. The FCC is migrating the fund to broadband, but ultimately voted not to cap the fund, though approaching the $2.25 billion allocation would trigger a review of the fund.

Thune said the delays were "highly unusual -- they certainly were for the generally punctual Wheeler commission -- and cited media reports, including Multichannel News/Broadcasting & Cable stories, about the compromise and the delay.

Thune said the proper functioning of the FCC depends on the confidentiality of deliberations and asked Wheeler to explain the disclosures of nonpublic information in those news reports, whether he or any other employee authorized disclosure and, if so, any legal justification for doing so.

Thune said the leaks of info appeared "designed to engage outside interest groups to disrupt the deal struck between the Republican Commissioners and Commissioner Clyburn.

He asked whether the FCC was planning to investigate who leaked the information about deliberations, and if not, why not.

Wheeler has said there was no such strategy to kneecap the compromise, and the suggestion that there was "balderdash."

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.