Editorial: Deaf Ears In WashingtonThe gambit of trying to push legislation through on the back of must-pass bills is a recipe for gridlock and acrimony 12/19/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Around this time of year, the Jimmy Stewart movie
that most often comes to mind and to television screens
throughout the country is It’s a Wonderful Life. These days, at least inside the Beltway, the Stewart movie that seems most fitting
is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, about a man discouraged to the point of
exhaustion when facing down a frustrating political system that hardly seems to
be serving the best interests of the public.
We hope that by the time this editorial hits the page, all the legislative loose
ends that just happen to involve the long-term future of communications and
the short-term futures of many hurting Americans have been wrapped up with
a red bow and delivered. But even if there is some partial resolution, this is no
way to run a government.
Rather than vote on a stand-alone spectrum auction incentive authority bill,
the issue was inserted into last week’s payroll tax package, which combined
must-pass measures like extending unemployment benefits with an oil pipeline
and a farm dust particulate bill and the legislation that would give broadcasters
arguably their best shot at coverage area protections and enough money to make
sure that they, and cable and satellite operators, would be compensated for having
to move to new channels, and perhaps move and share new channels when
their spectrum is reclaimed for wireless broadband.
Then there is the national, interoperable broadband emergency communications
network the government has not been able to approve or fund in the more
than 10 years since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The gambit of trying to push legislation through on the back of must-pass
bills—ones whose authority will expire at the end of the year—is a recipe for
gridlock and acrimony, which is what we were getting last week.
The FCC, meanwhile, is the lead agency in the Obama administration’s push for
broadband deployment and adoption, an effort that is billed as crucial and transformative.
Yet with the FCC at four members and potentially down to three at the
beginning of next month, the new commission nominees faced a hold in the Senate
over the complaints, legitimate or not, of a single senator over an unrelated matter.
As we said, it’s possible that the hold will be lifted and the nominees voted on, and
somewhat less likely that the spectrum auction bill will survive in its current form.
But the point is that the broadband future is undeniably important—to cable operators
that dominate in the Internet service space; to broadcasters as well, some of
which have a plan to help offload wireless broadband traffic if the FCC allows them to
remain a viable business; and to all of us Crackberry, iPhone, tablet-dependent media
types. Yet the fates of future FCC commissioners and the legislation the FCC says is
crucial to broadband’s future—whether that is an oversell or not—were, and may
still be, held hostage to typically ugly political fights in an increasingly divisive town.
P.S.: Remember all that talk about toning down the violent rhetoric in Washington
after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords? Maybe it’s
time for the forces marshaled against online piracy legislation to stop suggesting
their opponents would be “Internet killers.”