House subcommittee votes to overhaul FCC

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The measures would require the FCC to identify a market failure, consumer harm or regulatory barrier to investment before adopting new regulations. The agency would have to then demonstrate that the benefits of its proposed regulations outweigh their costs.

The bills would restrict the types of conditions that the FCC could impose on corporate mergers, only allowing the agency to address specific harms related to the proposed deals.

The bills would also codify the FCC's informal "shot clock" for its reviews so that parties could know when to expect decisions.

Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said the reforms would create regulatory certainty, helping businesses know when to invest. 

He emphasized the legislation is not about the current FCC leadership.

"It's not about Chairman [Julius] Genachowski," Walden said. "I have repeatedly said the current chairman has improved many of the processes at the FCC."

But Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said the Republicans are really trying to prevent the FCC from passing regulations similar to the controversial net-neutrality rules it adopted last year, which prevent Internet service providers from slowing down or blocking legitimate websites. He said the bills are an "effort by some of my colleagues to create procedural roadblocks that only apply to the FCC."

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said the measures are "good policy because we all know that the FCC has a little bit of a problem with overreaching their authority." 

Blackburn and other Republicans argue the FCC lacks the authority to regulate Internet service providers.

The panel rejected an amendment from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the subcommittee's ranking member, that would have expanded the authority of the FCC to review corporate mergers. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said the amendment would have "nefarious" consequences.

"I don't think you intended to use that word," Eshoo said. "It doesn't belong in this hearing room."

Terry said he stood by his statement.

Eshoo said the legislation would give companies that disagree with the FCC's decision new grounds to bring lawsuits, opening the agency up to "years of litigation."

"At the end of the day, I don’t think this is reform. It’s gumming up the works," she said.

"I'm thankful this thing is going to die and not pass the Senate," Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) said. 

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) has sponsored companion legislation in the Senate, but it is unclear whether the Democratic-controlled chamber will take up the measure.