New FCC Commissioners to Testify Along Familiar Lines

Oversight hearing tomorrow could cover wide range of issues

The first public appearance of the new federal communications commissioners was essentially a bust. Appearing in May before the Senate Commerce Committee only days after they were sworn in, the timing was premature.

Tomorrow's appearance before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology should be a different story. Republican Ajit Pai and Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel have had seven weeks to settle into their new roles and begin forming positions on various issues facing the agency.

But that doesn't mean anyone should be surprised by what the new duo will say, given each commissioner's party affiliation and experience.

Just about all of Pai's testimony falls in line with the FCC Process Reform Act, originating with the GOP leadership in the subcommittee and passed in March by a GOP-controlled House.

Rosenworcel's testimony will pick up on some familiar themes advanced by her former boss, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and her former FCC mentor, commissioner Michael Copps, who she replaced on the FCC.

In his testimony, Pai will argue that the FCC needs to work more quickly to discharge its responsibilities because delayed actions can chill innovation in new technologies, dry up financial investments, and hurt jobs.

"I have been struck by how many parties have complained to me that the commission has unreasonably delayed taking action in a particular proceeding, for months, for a year, or even for the better part of a decade," says the written testimony, which Pai will read tomorrow. "We must act with the same alacrity as the industry we regulate."

Pai agreed with the GOP lawmakers that the FCC employ shot clocks that would set deadlines for FCC action and sunset clauses to reevaluate regulations that inevitably age over time in the fast-moving communications marketplace.

Pai is likely to clash with Rosenworcel over his belief that the FCC's approval of mergers and transactions should not be predicated on imposed voluntary commitments that are not tied to a transaction-specific harm.

Rosenworcel, echoing former commissioner Copps, will likely be a strong advocate for a broader interpretation of the public interest. "Consumer protection is always in the public interest," she will tell the subcommittee when she reads her testimony tomorrow.

At the top of Rosenworcel's list of issues facing the FCC is public safety. "Public safety is paramount," reads Rosenworcel's testimony. "Congress directed the FCC to promote the safety of life and property in the very first sentence of the Communications Act."

Also testifying before the subcommittee will be chairman Julius Genachowski and veteran commissioners Mignon Clyburn, both Democrats, and Republican Robert McDowell. As to which of the dozen or so issues that could be raised in the hearing that will be up to the subcommittee members, likely topics include an update on FCC wireless spectrum auctions, the ongoing review of media ownership rules, the build out of a public safety network, and the widespread power outage last week in the Washington area.