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Upton, Walden Say FCC Reg Pruning Falls Short of Real Regulatory Reform

House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (Mich.) and Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) Tuesday praised the FCC for scrubbing the Fairness Doctrine and other regs from the federal rulebook, but said that was not enough and they would continue to push for FCC process reforms.

The FCC plans Wednesday to release an outline of the 83 media-related regs it has taken off the books as part of an overall regulatory review as well as in response to the President's call for reviewing all regulations for their impact on jobs, innovation and the economy.

"The Fairness Doctrine is a relic of an earlier era when government officials thought they knew best what news and information the American people wanted and needed," said Upton and Walden in a joint statement. "The rules are outdated and needlessly endanger our sacred freedoms of speech and the press. The FCC has finally done what it should have done 20 years ago: It has scrapped the Fairness Doctrine once and for all."

As to the other 82 regs the FCC is pruning -- many for reasons of duplication or, in at least one case, because a court struck it down in the mid-1990s -- the legislators said they were pleased, and were also pleased that the FCC was planning to submit a plan for reviewing other regs in response to a request by the President. But they were not ready to let the FCC off the deregulatory hook.

"[R]eal regulatory reform requires more. Regulators should propose rules before adopting them, give the public adequate time to review those rules, and only adopt rules if the benefits outweigh the costs," they said. "The FCC has not always followed these best practices, and that's why we are moving forward on FCC process reform. Good government practices -- transparent government practices -- are a necessary ingredient for eliminating the regulatory overhang that deters the investment and job creation our economy so desperately needs." They did not cite the FCC's network neutrality rulemaking, but that has been one of their examples of rules that they believe did not fit the above criteria for adequate review and cost-benefit analysis.

Upton and Walden had called for the commission to remove the doctrine from the Code of Federal Regulations after Republican FCC Commissioner McDowell pointed out in a speech that it remained on the books, ready to be revived if a different FCC chose to enforce it. A Republican-led FCC stopped enforcing the doctrine in 1987 as an unconstitutional speech restriction.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the FCC was planning to do just that as part of an ongoing reg review, and set an August target.