Lawmakers praise FCC nominees; Sen. Grassley firm on promise to block them

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 Until her nomination, Rosenworcel was an aide to the Democrats on the committee, and several of the lawmakers mentioned they enjoyed working with her.

"You should feel pretty good about your chances," Rockefeller told the nominees after they finished answering lawmakers' questions.

But in the middle of the hearing, Sen. Grassley's office issued a news release that the lawmaker has no intention of backing down from his hold, which would take effect after the Commerce Committee approves the nominees.

“There’s nothing new on whether the FCC will provide the information I requested," Grassley said. "The FCC hasn’t made any move to provide the information. As a result, my intention to place a hold on the FCC nominees, should they reach the floor, stands. The FCC needs to make itself accountable to Congress and the American people. An agency with control over a major piece of the economy can’t be allowed to operate as a closed shop.”

Grassley, who does not serve on the Commerce Committee, wants the FCC to release documents related to its review of LightSquared, which plans to launch a wholesale wireless broadband service. Tests earlier this year revealed its network interferes with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, and FCC officials have said they will not grant final approval to the company until it resolves the interference problems. But Grassley is suspicious that the agency has shown LightSquared undue favoritism.  

After the hearing, Chairman Rockefeller said he is "concerned" about Grassley's hold but that the two are continuing to talk. He said he remains hopeful they can reach an agreement and emphasized that Grassley's concerns are unrelated to the two nominees.

Lawmakers asked both nominees about the FCC releasing its analysis of the merger between AT&T and T-Mobile despite the companies' decision to withdraw their FCC application to focus on the Justice Department's lawsuit challenging the deal. 

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) called the decision to release the report "gratuitous." Pai said the commission's authority to release information should be "exercised very carefully."

Rosenworcel said she believed Chairman Julius Genachowski acted within his legal authority but admitted that the release was "probably unprecedented."

Both nominees said the FCC should not re-adopt the Fairness Doctrine, a rule which required broadcasters to cover controversial issues in a manner the commission deemed fair and balanced. 

The nominees dodged questions about whether the FCC should treat the Internet as a "telephone service" instead of an "information service." The FCC has a much broader authority to regulate telephone companies. 

Pai said he would be "hesitant" to regulate the Internet as a telephone service; Rosenworcel only said she would be bound by court decisions on the issue.

Pai said he was notified that he was under consideration for the FCC spot as soon as he began working at law firm Jenner & Block in April. He said that although the firm has clients with business before the FCC, he never worked for them.  

When Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) asked whether the FCC should impose conditions on corporate mergers that are unrelated to the problems raised by the mergers, Pai said his approach would be to only apply "merger-specific" conditions.

Some Republicans criticized the FCC for imposing diversity requirements and other conditions on the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal earlier this year.

At the end of the hearing, Rockefeller said he is especially concerned about the "coarsening" of media that children watch. 

When Pai said he would do what he could to ensure that children are not exposed to inappropriate content, Rockefeller said, "That's not always enough."

He said he is especially concerned about Facebook's impact on children.

"I'm not a great fan of Facebook," Rockefeller said.