Washington

Election to Shuffle Industry Panels

GOP’s takeover of the House will change views at the top 11/08/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

With Republicans back on top in the House
big time, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will
likely have to either find a way to clarify the commission’s
broadband authority under the existing Title I information
service regime, or wait for Congress to weigh in.

The FCC’s lawyers have been working on various scenarios,
including Title I and Title II options, according to commission
and industry sources, though all options
are said to remain on the table.

That said, the FCC is unlikely to
push for a vote on Title II reclassification
this year in any event, given that
it won’t have finished collecting input
on some net neutrality issues until later
this month. Plus, Republicans have a
united front against it.

With one election out of the way, the
race has already begun for committee
chairmanships; Fred Upton (R-Mich.)
and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) are high-profile
contenders for chairman of the House
Energy & Commerce Committee. Greg
Walden (R-Ore.) is a strong candidate
to take over from Rick Boucher (DVa.),
current chair of the House Communications Subcommittee,
who was one of the senior Democrats unseated last
week. Walden took a leave of absence from the committee
during the campaign, but could well return as subcommittee
chairman, according to Hill sources.

Barton has already pledged muscular oversight of the FCC,
with an aide to the congressman telling B&C to look for hearings on the planned revamp of the
Universal Service Fund, network
neutrality rules and reclassification
and the broadband stimulus buildouts,
particularly if there is insuffiicient funding to monitor them for
waste, fraud and abuse. Upton has
been equally vocal about reining in
the FCC’s network neutrality regulatory
impulses.

Agony of Defeat

Boucher’s defeat was a blow to fair use fans and the tech
industry, and removes a friend of broadcasters. Boucher
was co-chair of the House Internet Caucus, co-sponsor of
privacy and Universal Service Reform legislation, and of a
bill that tried to insure that if the FCC reclaims spectrum
from broadcasters, it can only do so voluntarily.

The exit of Boucher may make it easier for former Communications
Subcommittee Chairman
Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to return
to the committee. He has been heading
up a special energy committee,
but there has been talk on the Hill
that he might want to move back.
That would be welcome news for net
neutrality fans, given Markey’s strong
stands for open Internet legislation,
though with a Republican majority it
would be tough for him to do more
than carry the standard.

Whoever takes over the committees,
there will likely continue to be
ongoing attention—in the form of
hearings on existing legislation at
least—paid to online privacy and
spectrum bills, given the bipartisan interest in both.

But with a split between Senate and House control, there
could be more talk than action on telecom policy. “The Obama
Administration may not want to put a lot of political capital
into telecom,” says Michael Mandel, editor-in-chief of Visible
Economy. “That’s especially true if the economy stays weak,
since telecom is one of the few innovative, growing sectors.”

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