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Public Statements

Hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee - New Commissioners of FTC and FCC


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, delivered the following prepared remarks at today's full committee hearing on the nominations of Terrell McSweeny to the Federal Trade Commission and Michael O'Rielly to the Federal Communications Commission:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing today to consider the nomination of Michael O'Rielly to be a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, and the nomination of Terrell McSweeny to be a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission.

Mr. O'Rielly and Ms. McSweeny, thank you very much for your willingness to serve the nation in these important positions of responsibility. I have had the privilege of being one of five Members for whom Mr. O'Rielly has worked for in the Senate--John Sununu, John Ensign, myself, Jon Kyl, and most recently John Cornyn. I think I detect a pattern here…

Mike did excellent work at the Policy Committee, and he has been a dedicated public servant in Congress for nearly twenty years. Much of Mike's Senate work has focused on the nation's communications landscape, and I am sure he will continue to serve our country with distinction in his new role at the FCC, should he be confirmed.

As I have said before, it is clear we are living in the middle of a digital revolution, which is being powered, in large part, by the huge investments made by the broadband industry. There is enormous potential for job creation and innovation in the broadband, Internet, and technology sectors.

Both the FCC and the FTC are regulatory agencies that oversee various aspects of the interactions between consumers and industry in these important sectors of our economy, whether it is mobile technology privacy issues, which the FTC is actively investigating, or the FCC's critical efforts to increase the availability of private sector spectrum to keep pace with exploding demand. Those who are a part of these independent agencies must possess sound judgment so they can find the right balance between intervening in the marketplace to correct market failures and applying restraint from taking actions that could overburden industry, harm innovation and stifle economic growth.

I believe we as a Committee must focus on establishing modern legal and regulatory structures that serve the purposes of our 21st Century economy, whether it is reviewing the authorities of the FTC under Section 5 of its statute regarding unfair methods of competition and unfair and deceptive acts or practices, or seeking to modernize and streamline our telecom laws to better reflect today's converging marketplace. It is time for our technology and communications sectors to be governed by laws written in the 21st Century that reflect today's reality and allow for tomorrow's advances, rather than laws established long before the Internet was invented. I hope that the nominees before us today will work with us in Congress, should they be confirmed, to seek to amend the law where it may be inadequate or outdated.

In addition to these efforts, we must also be mindful of the rural areas of our nation. Universal Service is, of course, very important to rural America. The Universal Service Fund reforms put in place by the FCC in the fall of 2011 are unfortunately creating a great deal of uncertainty and unpredictability for many rural carriers. As the FCC continues implementing these reforms, I hope that a full slate of FCC commissioners will look to apply them in a way that is more predictable for rural carriers and customers.

Rural Americans are also facing significant call completion problems. I'm troubled by one study indicating that, during a period between 2011 and 2012, the incompletion rate was 13 times higher in rural areas than in non-rural areas. Calls that fail to be completed result in rural businesses losing customers, and family members in rural areas being cut off from each other. I was pleased to see the FCC take action yesterday by issuing an order and notice of proposed rulemaking that seeks to enhance the agency's ability to investigate this problem by taking steps to improve the performance of calls made to rural America. Sadly, for impacted customers and businesses in rural areas -- including South Dakota -- this has taken far too long to remedy.

I would be remiss if I did not extend an open invitation to both of you to visit South Dakota. There is no substitute for seeing firsthand the challenges that are unique to rural communities and the value that new technology holds for Americans living in rural areas. I want to make sure that all consumers, including those in rural communities, are able to enjoy the economic and societal benefits of the digital economy.

With regard to the nominations process for Mr. O'Rielly, I am mindful that the President's nominee for Chairman of the FCC is awaiting floor action. I hope that we can quickly process Mr. O'Rielly's nomination, and that we can ultimately have a full slate of FCC Commissioners by the time Congress breaks for the recess currently scheduled for mid-October.

Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing, and I look forward to the testimony from our witnesses.

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