FCC Process Reform Bill Passes House

Bill likely DOA in Senate

Dems put up a vigorous attack of the GOP's bill to reform how the Federal Communications Commission conducts its rulemaking process and reviews mergers, but they couldn't get the votes to defeat the bill, which passed the House 247-174, with 12 Democrats joining the GOP.

The FCC Process Reform Act has been a pet project of Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. As a former broadcaster, Walden has more than a passing familiarity with the agency he argues needs more transparent processes.

The Act would require the FCC to publish the full text of rules for comment and before a final vote, prevent the agency from accepting voluntary merger conditions outside its legal authority, conduct cost-benefit analyses before passing major rules, and establish time limits for proceedings.

"The FCC can hold you hostage [during merger review]," said Walden during debate on the House floor. "If you don't call it voluntary, you can kiss your merger goodbye. Outside the Portals [where the FCC building is] we would call it extortion."

Democrats argued that the Act would cripple the FCC to act in the public interest. Rep. House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said it would turn the FCC "from a watchdog into a lapdog for private industry."

"If you're AT&T [whose merger was shut down by the FCC], you love this. This is going to tie the commission in knots," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

House Democrats can take some comfort that the bill is probably dead on arrival in the Senate. Although Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has sponsored the Act, chances are slim he can convince chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to put it on the agenda any time soon.

Even if the bill somehow manages to survive all the hurdles in the Senate, President Obama is likely to veto it. "[The bill] would limit the ability of the FCC to exercise its statutory duty to protect the public interest in review of transactions affecting the vital communications industry," the Obama Administration said in a statement of policy.