House panel approves FCC transparency bill

House panel approves FCC transparency bill
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A House panel passed a bill aimed at making the FCC more transparent on Wednesday over the objections of Democrats who opposed a trio of Republican amendments on what was originally a bipartisan measure.

The FCC Process Reform Act was approved by the House Energy and Commerce committee through a voice vote.

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The bill institutes reforms to the way the commission goes about its business and comes after the FCC handed down its controversial net neutrality rules.

Republicans added three amendments based on bills they proposed when the reform bill was first considered by the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

One, from Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), requires that the FCC publish the text of any rule or other action no later than 24 hours after the chairman circulates them to the commissioners. Another requires the commission to publish a description of any order completed at the bureau level. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) proposed an amendment that would require the commission to publish changes to its rules.

The committee also adopted an amendment with measures proposed by Democrats, The panel, though, voted down an amendment that would have required broadcasters to provide more detailed disclosures on political ads, which Democrats had sought.

Democrats expressed opposition to all three Republican measures — portraying them as retribution against the FCC over its controversial net neutrality order.

“Let’s be clear about what this particular bill is really about,” said Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), while discussing Kinzinger’s amendment. “The majority doesn’t like the outcome of the FCC’s net neutrality decision, and they will use every tool they can to bring the agency to a standstill.

“It’s like an arrow that’s pointed at the heart of [the] four commissioners,” Eshoo added.

Democrats have also expressed disappointment, with Eshoo leading the charge, over a provision in the legislation that delays a rule making it easier for the FCC’s commissioners to meet in private.

Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has said he was caught off guard by Eshoo’s anger over the delay. He said the delay was part of a compromise reached with Democrats to move the bill toward passage.

Walden said on Wednesday that he believed the year-long delay was necessary because it would require the FCC to implement the other requirements included in the bill first — and questioned again why Eshoo was objecting to something he claimed she had agreed to.

“The one year delay was put in there to give the FCC an opportunity to comply with the rest of the legislation designed to open up its process,” he said. “And if they did that, then they would have the opportunity to get what they seek most out of this which is the ability to talk in private about matters of importance to the commission.

“The underlying bill that she seeks to change is the very bill that we passed in subcommittee, full committee and unanimously across the House floor and agreed to introduce intact this year,” he said.

The net neutrality order — which says that Internet providers should be regulated like utilities — has angered conservatives who see it as an example of agency overreach and has brought the FCC under the scrutiny of GOP lawmakers. Unless the courts halt their implementation, the Internet rules go into effect on June 12.