March 14, 2007 12:45 PM PDT

House Democrats take aim at FCC practices

WASHINGTON--The Federal Communications Commission endured a bruising on Wednesday from congressional Democrats who accused the regulators of overstepping their authority, lagging in answering consumer complaints, and operating in secret.

It was the first time all five commissioners met before a U.S. House of Representatives telecommunications and Internet panel since the Janet Jackson Super Bowl brouhaha three years ago. Politicians targeted the Republican-controlled body's approaches on many fronts. Their inquiries touched on everything from the union of AT&T and BellSouth to the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance program and Net neutrality.

Perhaps the most scathing attack came from Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who said he was tempted "to schedule an oversight hearing in this committee every month to keep the FCC on track." He accused the regulators of straying from their "sole duty--that is, to implement the laws as passed by Congress."

"The FCC is not a legislative body," he said in a packed hearing room here. "That role resides here, in this room, with the people's elected representatives."

Of particular concern is the FCC's decision last December to adopt rules designed to ease telephone companies' entry into the TV market, Dingell said. He and other Democrats on the committee suggested the FCC was stepping on Congress' toes by issuing those rules, which impose new requirements on local governments that grant franchise agreements allowing companies to offer TV service.

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of a House oversight panel, vowed to keep a closer eye on the FCC's activities and cited concerns that the agency is letting petitions and consumer complaints languish. For example, approximately 70,000 complaints related to the Do Not Call registry and dating back as many as four years, have gone unanswered, Stupak said.

In a tense exchange with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Republican Commissioner Deborah Tate, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) questioned why the two commissioners indicated that they would not enforce certain conditions, including Net neutrality, attached to an approved merger of AT&T and BellSouth late last year. Eshoo is one of the major proponents of passing legislation to make Net neutrality mandatory. If passed, such laws would prohibit all network operators from prioritizing online content.

"I think it's rather extraordinary to commit to not really enforcing parts of the agreement that you voted for, and I'm asking you, what was the meaning of it?" asked Eshoo, echoing a question by a Democratic leader at a Senate hearing featuring the FCC officials last month.

Martin insisted that "we are going to enforce it." He attempted to clarify that a joint statement issued by him and Tate stipulated that they would hold only AT&T--as opposed to the industry as a whole--to certain voluntary conditions proposed, including Net neutrality.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the chairman of the telecommunications and Internet subcommittee, reiterated concerns over the FCC's failure to investigate allegations that phone companies have turned over consumer records to the National Security Agency in violation of the law.

"This NSA scandal is important to investigate, and communications laws are implicated," he said. "Mr. Chairman, are you now prepared to open an investigation?"

Because the U.S. Department of Justice believes its national security privileges limit such an investigation to within its walls, the FCC "would be unable to get the underlying information from the carriers without threatening that," Martin replied.

Markey told Martin that the committee would apply its own pressure to the Justice Department on the legality of the program if the agency "thwarts your efforts."

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28 comments

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Pai;nfully apparant
It's becoming painfully apparent that Democrats in control of Congress is only interest in attacking the Bush Administration. I cannot see where they are making a single useful contribution to the nation. Instead of their 100 percent focus on going after Bush and taking orders from the far left lunatic fringe , they should be investigating the Hollywood pals and the record industry who, single handedly have set out to destroy the internet.
Posted by rich015 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
painfully apparent
Take another drink of that Kool-Aid, rich....
Posted by blkmagik98 (33 comments )
Link Flag
yeah..
apparently you don't care about unreasonable search and seizures(it's in the constitution by the way), which is what Democrats are taking on by looking into the NSA data aggregation, wiretaps, etc. See when you allow the government to freely go through your phone conversations, financial and medical records, where you eat, what you wear, without providing proof of you doing any wrongdoing(which is what NSA program is) THAT IS CALLED A POLICE-STATE.

On the notion of Net Neutrality...all they are doing is trying to protect the consumer/us citizens/legal residents from being charged for something purely imaginary at this point.

Speaking of the music and video/movie industry...I think it was the Republicans that passed DMCA, the stupidest law that is hampering inventions and not to mention allowing that same industry to charge up your behind for downloading music/videos or buy dvds.

nuff said
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
Pai;nfully apparant
It's becoming painfully apparent that Democrats in control of Congress is only interest in attacking the Bush Administration. I cannot see where they are making a single useful contribution to the nation. Instead of their 100 percent focus on going after Bush and taking orders from the far left lunatic fringe , they should be investigating the Hollywood pals and the record industry who, single handedly have set out to destroy the internet.
Posted by rich015 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
painfully apparent
Take another drink of that Kool-Aid, rich....
Posted by blkmagik98 (33 comments )
Link Flag
yeah..
apparently you don't care about unreasonable search and seizures(it's in the constitution by the way), which is what Democrats are taking on by looking into the NSA data aggregation, wiretaps, etc. See when you allow the government to freely go through your phone conversations, financial and medical records, where you eat, what you wear, without providing proof of you doing any wrongdoing(which is what NSA program is) THAT IS CALLED A POLICE-STATE.

On the notion of Net Neutrality...all they are doing is trying to protect the consumer/us citizens/legal residents from being charged for something purely imaginary at this point.

Speaking of the music and video/movie industry...I think it was the Republicans that passed DMCA, the stupidest law that is hampering inventions and not to mention allowing that same industry to charge up your behind for downloading music/videos or buy dvds.

nuff said
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
More Democrat cheerleading by CNet
They are Democrat lapdogs.
Posted by fafafooey (171 comments )
Reply Link Flag
why..
because they report the news? they report republican news as well, it just happens to be bad news 24/7 -- not their fault.
Posted by assman (1101 comments )
Link Flag
???
I mean where they supposed to write "House Republicans" even though they are not? CNet covers whoever is making impact on the technology world, good or bad. Just because Republicans are on the receiving end doesn't mean you shouldn't take it as a man and actually listen to what is the actual issue. Sounds to me like you're a Republican lapdog and you think and say what you have been spoonfed. Think for yourself and how things affect you(or will affect your children/grandchildren) not what they tell you. geez
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
More Democrat cheerleading by CNet
They are Democrat lapdogs.
Posted by fafafooey (171 comments )
Reply Link Flag
why..
because they report the news? they report republican news as well, it just happens to be bad news 24/7 -- not their fault.
Posted by assman (1101 comments )
Link Flag
???
I mean where they supposed to write "House Republicans" even though they are not? CNet covers whoever is making impact on the technology world, good or bad. Just because Republicans are on the receiving end doesn't mean you shouldn't take it as a man and actually listen to what is the actual issue. Sounds to me like you're a Republican lapdog and you think and say what you have been spoonfed. Think for yourself and how things affect you(or will affect your children/grandchildren) not what they tell you. geez
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
Wow.
Wow. It never ceases to amaze me to hear people utter lack of concern for the rights garanteed them when becoming an American citizen. There are rules to protect those rights and prevent corruption, and you view it as "an attack on the Bush administration". Well duh, it's an attack on the authoritarian policies put into place and finally someone is doing something about it. I'm very thankful for the democrats.
Posted by assman (1101 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: Wow
Good post assman. The Shrub administration has corrupted and controlled every agency in the U.S. government. Like you, I am thankful something is being done about it.
Posted by MIGuy (4 comments )
Link Flag
Wow.
Wow. It never ceases to amaze me to hear people utter lack of concern for the rights garanteed them when becoming an American citizen. There are rules to protect those rights and prevent corruption, and you view it as "an attack on the Bush administration". Well duh, it's an attack on the authoritarian policies put into place and finally someone is doing something about it. I'm very thankful for the democrats.
Posted by assman (1101 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE: Wow
Good post assman. The Shrub administration has corrupted and controlled every agency in the U.S. government. Like you, I am thankful something is being done about it.
Posted by MIGuy (4 comments )
Link Flag
It's all such a joke....
I'm a self-professed independent.(We grow a lot of those in Vermont)...
I think what we are seeing is the balance of power and common sense shifting back to the middle. What I'm unsure of is how we let the fringes of both side become the "voice of the people". No matter which side is on the losing side of the whipping, the end result is the same...they all get richer.
I'd like to know why telecom services are so expensive and why doesn't every house in America have broadband access. If I were on that committee, I would want to know why regulators have allowed companies like Verizon to roll out FIOS (50mb fiber optic to your house) in metro areas when there are rural customers that are still on dial-up. To make matters worse, the existing phone lines can barely maintain quality levels for phone service. Never mind data service.
I can answer the question for you....it's not profitable. Furthermore, these companies aren't afraid to say this as they cash in record profits. This is a pathetic transparent excuse. If these Congressman had any nads, they would pass legislation mandating the FCC to ensure nationwide broadband coverage before any of the coveted wireless frequencies are auctioned or any more fiber is run. As a slight sidebar...what the hell do you need 50mb service to your house for? There are people who are still stranded on 56k dial-up. Where's the compassion? I say that the FCC shouldn't give any more "hand outs" to its teleco buddies until we have reasonable broadband and wireless coverage nationwide.
Posted by cidman2001 (223 comments )
Reply Link Flag
see
the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. and you know the rich are representing the mostly poor. go figure that...
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
More Independence required
As a conservative independent, I must disagree. If the people want all people to have broadband pass a law and make the gov't pay for it like we do defense & social security, etc. Making a gov't task off-budget, so it looks free, even if by using obscure fees (telecom access tax) to make the private sector do it just means it may not be done as gov't intended.
And I have a "need" for 50MB internet, but don't have it. Why, I live in a suburb of a smaller city (New Orleans). If I need a doctor, I drive to one. If I need a doctor every day I need to MOVE closer to where the doctors are! So, if I NEEDED broadband I should move to where it is available, if none is.
But on the original subject - the Dems are right on this one, to a degree. The FCC is pitiful in enforcement, but the Dems want some of the laws just for local financial rape and pillaging, such as local rules on broadband selection. Again, where we live in LA the local gov'ts are corrupt so all one needs to do is pay off a set of politicians & voila - we get no consumer choice, poor service, & no voice. If we had more than one company I feel things would be better for us in da flood zone.
Posted by BigEfromdaBigEZ (8 comments )
Link Flag
It's all such a joke....
I'm a self-professed independent.(We grow a lot of those in Vermont)...
I think what we are seeing is the balance of power and common sense shifting back to the middle. What I'm unsure of is how we let the fringes of both side become the "voice of the people". No matter which side is on the losing side of the whipping, the end result is the same...they all get richer.
I'd like to know why telecom services are so expensive and why doesn't every house in America have broadband access. If I were on that committee, I would want to know why regulators have allowed companies like Verizon to roll out FIOS (50mb fiber optic to your house) in metro areas when there are rural customers that are still on dial-up. To make matters worse, the existing phone lines can barely maintain quality levels for phone service. Never mind data service.
I can answer the question for you....it's not profitable. Furthermore, these companies aren't afraid to say this as they cash in record profits. This is a pathetic transparent excuse. If these Congressman had any nads, they would pass legislation mandating the FCC to ensure nationwide broadband coverage before any of the coveted wireless frequencies are auctioned or any more fiber is run. As a slight sidebar...what the hell do you need 50mb service to your house for? There are people who are still stranded on 56k dial-up. Where's the compassion? I say that the FCC shouldn't give any more "hand outs" to its teleco buddies until we have reasonable broadband and wireless coverage nationwide.
Posted by cidman2001 (223 comments )
Reply Link Flag
see
the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. and you know the rich are representing the mostly poor. go figure that...
Posted by dondarko (261 comments )
Link Flag
More Independence required
As a conservative independent, I must disagree. If the people want all people to have broadband pass a law and make the gov't pay for it like we do defense & social security, etc. Making a gov't task off-budget, so it looks free, even if by using obscure fees (telecom access tax) to make the private sector do it just means it may not be done as gov't intended.
And I have a "need" for 50MB internet, but don't have it. Why, I live in a suburb of a smaller city (New Orleans). If I need a doctor, I drive to one. If I need a doctor every day I need to MOVE closer to where the doctors are! So, if I NEEDED broadband I should move to where it is available, if none is.
But on the original subject - the Dems are right on this one, to a degree. The FCC is pitiful in enforcement, but the Dems want some of the laws just for local financial rape and pillaging, such as local rules on broadband selection. Again, where we live in LA the local gov'ts are corrupt so all one needs to do is pay off a set of politicians & voila - we get no consumer choice, poor service, & no voice. If we had more than one company I feel things would be better for us in da flood zone.
Posted by BigEfromdaBigEZ (8 comments )
Link Flag
Cheerleading Lapdogs?? HUH??
Fafa...this is news about an actual event. It is not an attack by CNet. Get a grip. You shouldn't lose control when you see "Democrats" in a headline. Calm down.
Posted by MIGuy (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Cheerleading Lapdogs?? HUH??
Fafa...this is news about an actual event. It is not an attack by CNet. Get a grip. You shouldn't lose control when you see "Democrats" in a headline. Calm down.
Posted by MIGuy (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
As oppsed to...
...a republican syncophant such as anyone who makes similar
claims as you are here?
Posted by ewelch (767 comments )
Reply Link Flag
As oppsed to...
...a republican syncophant such as anyone who makes similar
claims as you are here?
Posted by ewelch (767 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let's all get along
If we dropped Dems & republicans from the story hopefully on a tech site like the the convo would go 2 FCC is supposed to administer telecom based upon gov't laws. There are legislative procs on handling interpretation issues. Making a communication issue into a media circus for sound bites probably won't solve the problem. Both parties are wrong here - the FCC is not enforcing rules because they are spending too much time researching (& allowing) questionable mergers (do they add consumer value?) while the Dems are steamed they may lose some local political clout (money, bribes, power) if something that probably should be national (broadband, cable access, phone services, etc.)is administered nationally. Why do we always think one group HAS to be right just we oppose the other group? BOTH parties are wrong here! More concerned about self-preservation (Dems) or self-perpetuation (Repubs) than the people and their duties!
Posted by BigEfromdaBigEZ (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Let's all get along
If we dropped Dems & republicans from the story hopefully on a tech site like the the convo would go 2 FCC is supposed to administer telecom based upon gov't laws. There are legislative procs on handling interpretation issues. Making a communication issue into a media circus for sound bites probably won't solve the problem. Both parties are wrong here - the FCC is not enforcing rules because they are spending too much time researching (& allowing) questionable mergers (do they add consumer value?) while the Dems are steamed they may lose some local political clout (money, bribes, power) if something that probably should be national (broadband, cable access, phone services, etc.)is administered nationally. Why do we always think one group HAS to be right just we oppose the other group? BOTH parties are wrong here! More concerned about self-preservation (Dems) or self-perpetuation (Repubs) than the people and their duties!
Posted by BigEfromdaBigEZ (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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