FCC to Testify Before Congress

WASHINGTON — Less than a week after passing controversial new rules in its local phone and broadband competition rules, the five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday morning in what may prove to be the liveliest hearing to date in the 108th Congress.

Last Thursday, a sharply divided FCC ruled the regional Bell operating will no longer have to share their high-speed fiber lines with broadband competitors but also decided the Bells would have to continue to share their local voice copper lines. The decision brought a firestorm of criticism down on the commissioners, much of it led by W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R.-La.), the chairman of the committee the commissioners must testify before Wednesday.

“(The FCC’s) decision is another body blow to the American economy,” Tauzin said after the FCC vote. “Ironically, as President Bush campaigned around the country on behalf of a promising new program to create more jobs and more opportunities, a renegade Republican at the FCC assured the continuation of a tired old program that will only create more layoffs and more misery for working families in the future.”

Tauzin’s renegade reference was directed at Commissioner Kevin Martin, who opposed Chairman Michael Powell’s plan to free the Bells from their current local competition legal obligations under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Currently, the Bells must lease some or all elements of their networks, including broadband lines, to competitors at deep discounts to foster competition in the local phone service market.

Tauzin, who failed last year to legislatively accomplish what Powell attempted to do on the regulatory level, said Martin a led a “palace coup” that “breathed new life into the dying era of big government control over U.S. telecommunications policy.”

Tauzin said the FCC decision, “again points out the urgent need for Congress to enact new legislation designed to promote real — not phony — competition in the marketplace. Given the FCC’s lack of leadership, I am now prepared to immediately begin that debate.”

Martin, along with Powell, Kathleen Abernathy (the three Republicans on the panel) and Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein (the two Democrats) are all scheduled to testify before Tauzin’s committee. Tauzin and other members of the committee will also have a chance to question the commissioners.

Powell wanted to eliminate both the local service and broadband competition requirements on the Bells, a position also favored by Abernathy. But Martin denied Powell a majority when he convinced Copps and Adelstein to support his plan to give the state public utility commissions the power to make deregulatory decisions about the Bells’ local service requirements.

In a compromise, the feuding commissioners agreed to “split the baby” with Powell and Abernathy relenting on the local competition rules and Martin, Copps and Adelstein agreeing to support rules allowing the Bells to block competitors from using their high-speed lines.

News Around the Web