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Hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation - Investigate Gas Price Spikes, Go After Market Manipulators


Location: Washington, DC

Senator Cantwell: Ms. McSweeny, we had a chance to talk a little bit about the new authority that the FTC was given as it relates to market manipulation on fuel prices. And obviously the West Coast has been hit by high fuel prices and refinery shutdowns. So I wanted to get a sense from you if you will work to ensure that the FTC uses this authority of anti-manipulation to investigate anomalous gas prices and to make sure that the markets are safe from manipulation and anti-competitive behavior?

Ms. Terrell McSweeny, nominee for commissioner at Federal Trade Commission: Yes Senator, absolutely. I think it's very important. And as we discussed, fuel and energy costs really hit consumers directly in their pocket very quickly. So, I think it is a very important priority.

Senator Cantwell: What do you think you bring to the FTC to get them to understand this shift in policy? What can they do to work with other agencies -- either in a task force environment -- to accomplish this kind of oversight?

Ms. Terrell McSweeny: Well I certainly understand the benefit of inter-agency collaborations. We do that at the anti-trust division at the Department of Justice to combat fraud. I think it is very important. And I'd be happy to commit to working with our sister independent commissions as well as other agencies with expertise. I look forward to learning more about what the FTC is doing and look forward to speaking with all of my fellow commissioners about that if I am confirmed.

Senator Cantwell: How big of an issue do you think the issue of gas prices are for consumers?

Ms. Terrell McSweeny: I am not an expert on that question but I am a consumer and I appreciate that energy costs can be very significant. I've worked on middle-class economic security policies for most of my career and understand how very real that pressure can be on families. Particularly when they have tight budgets. So I think it is a very important issue and I understand your concern with it.

Senator Cantwell: Thank you. Mr. O'Rielly, in your area of policy the issue of media ownership is one that residents of my state are very interested in and will continue to be interested in for a long period of time. Do you think that in some of these individual markets that broadcasters are abusing this ability on these joint agreements and effectively are getting around what is currently there to set limits on media ownership? They'll basically come in and virtually work together on all of the activities except for 15 percent as a way to say "okay we are not crossing that line.' But in reality they are.

Mr. Michael O'Rielly, nominee for commissioner at Federal Communications Commission: Thank you, Senator, for the question. I would say first, the commission has an obligation to complete its Media Ownership Proceeding as required by the deadline as established by the Congress. And it has not done so. So we are long past the question of answering a number of different media ownership limitations -- whether they should be relaxed or kept the same. And that gets to the part of your question that is, are companies using a number of different arrangements to get around those situations given that the rules have not been relaxed? And I would say that there are situations where companies are trying to work within the current environment of the media landscape that they would like to do things that if the commission would move forward on its proceeding.

Senator Cantwell: Well how do you look at the issue overall given that they haven't completed it, but yet here's a Congress that in a bipartisan fashion has said you have to have a diversity of voices and your current rulings haven't achieved that? What would you bring?

Mr. Michael O'Rielly: So I would want to look at the complete record in the situation. There have been a number of studies done by the commission. The commission just concluded one study by an outside party on this question. And I would want to look at the entire record. I am open to exploring, given what the record would suggest, relaxing some of the media ownership rules but I would want to look at the entire record and hear from all stakeholders.

Senator Cantwell: Well, I'm very concerned about relaxing the ownership rules and having a consolidation of voices. So, I'm impressed by your statement now twice about the Internet and understanding that it moves a lot faster than we do. So I'm glad you get and understand that. That means a lot of policies that we could pass will be moved by the time they are actually implemented. At the same time, I think a lot of people in the media space are trying to use the Internet as an excuse to say we ought to have a concentration of voices. And I can guarantee you -- because Seattle will turn out thousands of people at a moment's notice to debate this issue -- that they don't like to be force-fed by a concentration of media that says "this is what you are going to hear' or "this is what you are going to listen to.' We wouldn't have the alternative music scene, we wouldn't have a lot of different things in Seattle if we didn't have a lot of diversity. So I hope you will look at that issue the same way you are looking at this Internet issue and come to grips with the fact that a concentration, even the courts are saying, is a big problem.

Mr. Michael O'Rielly: Yes Senator, I commit to you I will.

Senator Cantwell: Thank you.

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