For Julius Genachowski, being the Democratic FCC chairman these days means fighting Republicans in the House of Representatives most of the time and the rest paying attention to the duties of the job. Now, the political battle continues on Feb. 7.
That’s markup day for legislation for another Republican attempt to “reform” the commission. The proposed legislation would place a timer on FCC decisions and institute many new “processes” dictating how the commission would conduct its business.
The markup process is set in the Energy & Commerce Committee, according to Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.). Walden said the Feb. 7 date could change, but he wants “to bring more openness to the process at the FCC.”
Walden said he is beginning to feel the commission is becoming more of a “tool of the White House” than an independent agency. That exactly the same thing Democrats said of the FCC when the Republicans held power in the White House.
As an example of the what he doesn’t like about the current FCC, Walden noted the lag time between the vote on Universal Service and the production of a final document. “Oftentimes the FCC commissioner’s process has been one of voting on e-mails and press releases and not documents that are available to the public,” Walden said.
Walden wants to place time limits on decisions and prevent the FCC from using its public interest leverage on mergers “to achieve effects in the marketplace that you don’t statutorily have the right to do under your rules. Any other context you would call that extortion,” he said.
The political haggling is expected to continue all year until the elections. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Genachowski was critical of the Republican version of the spectrum auction bill in the House because of its limits on the conditions the FCC could impose. That detail imposed on the FCC’s inner workings continues.
Though the legislation may pass the House of Representatives, the Democrats, who control the Senate, will probably block it. They have challenged and stopped most of the Republican’s efforts in the House.
However, Walden can continue to give the FCC endless trouble. He’s a conferee on the payroll tax extension bill package that includes spectrum incentive auction legislation. He remains committed to retaining provisions that prevent the FCC from putting conditions on the bidders for that reclaimed broadcast spectrum, which Democrats remain strongly opposed to.
Also, Walden’s subcommittee expects to hold hearings on the FCC’s handling of LightSquared, and after that, issues involving the Cable Act. Expect partisan bickering all the way until Election Day.