Telecom industry applauds passage of FCC reform bill

The telecommunications industry is applauding the House for passing a GOP-backed bill that would limit the powers of the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC Process Reform Act, sponsored by Energy and Commerce Communications subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), would require the FCC to demonstrate the necessity of new regulations, restrict the types of conditions the agency could impose on corporate mergers and require the agency to set binding timelines for its proceedings.

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Representatives of several industry groups said the bill, which passed the House Tuesday evening 247-174, would add predictability and transparency to the workings of an agency that has long been derided as mercurial and opaque. 

Jot Carpenter, Vice President of Government Affairs for CTIA - The Wireless Association, congratulated Chairman Walden on the bill's passage. CTIA shares Walden's goal of a "more transparent, predictable regulatory process," he said.

National Cable and Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell praised Walden for leading the charge to reform the FCC. Powell, who served as chairman of the FCC during President George W. Bush's first term, said the bill "will promote greater transparency and predictability in Commission decision making." 

“The regulatory framework envisioned by this reform legislation will ensure that private enterprise can continue to invest and innovate with more consistent and precise federal government oversight," Powell said. 

But public interest groups and House Democrats aren’t so enamored with Walden's legislation, arguing it would tilt the regulatory balance in favor of large telecommunications companies while ignoring consumers and the public interest. 

Free Press Action Fund policy adviser Joel Kelsey said the "so-called FCC reform bill is a misguided effort that puts the emphasis on protecting corporations rather than consumers." 

Kelsey praised Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) for offering an amendment that he said would "put the focus back where it belongs, on the public." But even with amendments, Kelsey said the bill would remain undesirable. 

"[T]he underlying legislation would … create irreversible long term harm," Kelsey said, by tying the FCC's hands at a time when it oversees an "increasingly consolidated" industry.

Eshoo offered a great many criticisms of the bill in addition to her amendments during the floor debate on the bill Tuesday evening.

The act would "gut" the FCC by inserting "onerous" requirements into the agency's process, she said, rendering it "less effective, less agile, and less transparent. 

Eshoo noted that she has long been an advocate of reforming the FCC in favor of "increased openness, transparency and accountability." But this most recent attempt at reform legislation "doesn't accomplish these goals," she said. 

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