The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), today welcomed all five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission to discuss a number of issues before the Commission, including spectrum allocations, process reform, Internet governance, and the communications networks and 911 outages during the recent storms in the Mid-Atlantic region.
"You need to know that I--and a majority of this subcommittee, and indeed a majority of the House--remain deeply committed to the cause of improving transparency and accountability at the FCC," said Walden. "The subcommittee is very interested in making sure competitive market forces, driven by empowered consumers, are allowed to work in a way that spurs new technology, innovation, and creation of American jobs. The FCC is an important player in this effort, and should not abuse its power to achieve outcomes it lacks statutory authority to accomplish on its own."
"We passed landmark spectrum legislation this year that will help kick-start our economy, promote investment and jobs, and provide Americans access to new and innovative services," said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). "The legislation does this by putting more frequencies in commercial hands as the Internet goes mobile and demand for wireless broadband grows exponentially. I also want to reinforce what we required in the legislation: that the FCC not preclude parties from participating in the auction. The FCC should not be picking winners and losers, and the more robust an auction, the more successful it will be."
During the hearing, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski provided an update on the incentive auctions, based on a bipartisan framework written by Chairman Upton and Chairman Walden. "We're also hard at work designing the world's first incentive auctions -- a complex task affecting major parts of our economy and involving many challenging questions of economics and engineering," said Genachowski. "I expect the Commission will put forward proposals by the fall, and seek broad public comment."
Commissioner Robert McDowell added, "To help put more spectrum into the hands of American consumers, we need to find new ways to encourage the Executive Branch to relinquish federal spectrum for auction, as well as help create a policy framework to encourage technological advancements and investments in spectral efficiency -- that is, how can we squeeze more capacity out of currently available airwaves."
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn provided an update on the FCC's efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund, stating, "Last October, the Commission adopted reforms to the Universal Service Fund to update the Fund to meet modern day realities and put it on a more sustainable path. The reforms that we adopted will promote significant broadband deployment, as quickly as possible, to millions of unserved consumers in our nation over the next six years. Importantly, our reform carefully balances the need for certainty and predictability for carriers by avoiding flash cuts and providing transitions so they can adjust to the changes."
Yesterday, Chairman Upton, Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), along with subcommittee Chairman Walden and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-CA), sent a letter to the FCC requesting additional information about the Universal Service Fund.
Addressing the public safety concerns before the Commission, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel discussed the FCC's response to the recent 911 and non-emergency communications services outages after storms hit the Mid-Atlantic region. Rosenworcel said, "Just last week in Washington we were reminded how vulnerable we are without access to communications. Weather-related power outages across the region brought life to a halt, as wireless towers and 911 centers failed too many of us. Now the FCC must begin an investigation. It must search out the facts--wherever they lead--and apply the lessons we learn, so that our networks are more resilient, more secure, and more safe."
Addressing the types of FCC internal procedure matters and good-government process reforms that Chairman Upton and Walden have championed, Commissioner Ajit Pai stressed the need to set rules and timelines for the commission's business. "I believe that the FCC should more frequently employ "shot clocks' and sunset clauses," said Pai. "The former measure sets deadlines for Commission action; the latter requires periodic re-evaluation of existing regulations. In different ways, each ensures timelier decision-making and a regulatory framework better calibrated to a dynamic communications marketplace."