White House opposes FCC overhaul bill

The White House on Monday came out against a Republican-backed bill that would overhaul how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) operates, saying it would hamper the agency's ability to protect consumers.

The House is expected to vote on H.R. 3309, the FCC Process Reform Act, this week.

The bill, authored by Rep. 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.


The bill's supporters say it would increase transparency and accountability and provide certainty for businesses.

But the White House concluded the legislation would create unnecessary obstacles for the FCC that do not apply to any other regulatory agency. 

"H.R. 3309 would, in effect, create a separate Administrative Procedure Act (APA) for the FCC," the White House said in a statement. "For more than 60 years, the APA has provided a uniform framework to guide decisionmaking by all federal administrative agencies."

The administration also panned the provision that would bar the FCC from imposing merger conditions that do not address specific harms related to the deal.  

Some lawmakers criticized the FCC for pressuring Comcast to make commitments, such as offering channels aimed at racial minorities, to receive approval for its purchase of NBC Universal last year. The requirements fell under the FCC's authority to promote the public interest, but were unrelated to the deal's antitrust concerns.

"These restrictions would harm the federal government’s ability to promote the most effective competitive outcome in any given transaction involving communications firms," the White House said. "H.R. 3309 would limit the ability of the FCC and the Justice Department to work together on telecommunications matters to protect consumers, promote competition and increase innovation to ensure access to more choices, lower rates and prices and better products."

The administration said it is committed to "ensuring that the decisions of all federal agencies are open, transparent, well-founded, and protective of the public interest," but concluded that the FCC reform bill "does not further those goals." 

Debbee Keller, a spokeswoman for the Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it is "unfortunate" to see the administration opposing "good government" principles.

"Both President Obama himself and his own Jobs Council have embraced the idea of cost-benefit analysis for regulations, and that's one of several common-sense steps called for in this legislation," she said. "The communications and technology sector is a key driver of economic growth, but job creators have warned that some of FCC's secretive and unpredictable processes have made it harder to innovate and grow."

She added that the legislation builds on efforts by the current FCC chairman, Julius Genachowski, to improve the agency's operations.

The bill's chances of passing the GOP-controlled House seem high, but it is unlikely to reach the president's desk. An aide for the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee said earlier this month that the panel has no plans to take up the legislation.

— Updated at 7:12 p.m.