Dems Come Out Swinging Against Bill to Reform FCC

Legislators charge bill would kill public interest obligation

WASHINGTON—House Democrats are lashing out against a draft of a Republican bill that would reform the process at the Federal Communications Commission, arguing that the legislation would do more harm than good. 

Democrats have been airing their concerns Wednesday, during a hearing on the bill being held by the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. It's the third in a series of hearings on FCC process reform called by the subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who has made no secret of his desire to improve the way the FCC works. Walden has been especially critical of several of the FCC’s recent decisions, including its new net neutrality rules and some of the conditions imposed on the Comcast-NBCUniversal merger.

Though Walden called the draft bill a “starting point,” Democrats were ready to kill the draft before it even got out of the gate, with the exception of one provision that would allow FCC Commissioners to meet outside of a formal meeting. That provision is drawn from The FCC Collaboration Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

Though they did give Walden a nod for including the bipartisan proposal in the draft legislation, Democrats on the subcommittee, turned quickly to criticizing the bill, saying it would make the FCC more bureaucratic, not less. 

“The legislation undermines the ability of FCC to act quickly in the public interest. We could end up promoting slower, not faster decision-making,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.

Democrats are particularly concerned that a provision of the bill would change the standard the FCC uses in reviewing potential mergers. Currently, the FCC looks at the benefits that proposed deals might have for the public; under the bill, the commission would use what could be a lesser standard, and would instead review deals to see if they'd cause harm to the public. 

Waxman all but accused Walden of playing politics. “Chairman Walden and others have criticized the voluntary commitments Comcast agreed to during review of its combination with NBCUniversal," he said. "That appears to be why the current draft legislation radically alters the FCC’s authority under the Communications Act and could eviscerate the public interest standard.”