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Thune: FCC's Wheeler Has Used Info as Political Weapon

Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) had said Thursday (Sept. 15) that his was going to be a hard-hitting opening statement for the committee's 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 FCC votes under Wheeler, noting that was far more than the 14 total 3-2 votes over the previous 20 years.

Wheeler pointed out that 90% of the votes were unanimous and also said at least a couple of 3-2 votes were not along party lines, citing the effective competition vote, for one, where he teamed with the two Republicans. But Thune said he was referring to public meeting votes, which the effective competition vote 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," he added. "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."

Sen. Bill Nelson in his opening statement 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 its members try to find consensus, and he hopes the FCC takes a similar approach. Nelson agreed that the committee has been able to cut through partisanship on "issue after issue."