The chair and vice chair of the House Communications Subcommittee branded the FCC process "dysfunctional" following a partisan vote on E-Rate subsidy reforms Friday that had the Republicans complaining about being left out of the process and ignored.
In a statement, Subcommittee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and vice chair Bob Latta (R-Ohio) said they were dismayed by what they called "opaque decision-making," including that a final item was not ready for review until just before Friday's vote—modifications were made to assuage some critics, including some legislators on both sides of the aisle.
"If Chairman Wheeler’s intent is to keep his fellow commissioners in the dark and uninformed – then job well done," said Walden.
At the meeting, both Republican commissioners said their suggested edits had been ignored. For example, commissioner Ajit Pai said the chairman had rejected his compromises and said many things were nonnegotiable as a matter of principle. "Take it or leave it party line votes have become the new normal for high-profile commission items," he said. "This is not good process, and devastating substance."
Wheeler said later the complaints stemmed from strong individuals with firmly held beliefs working for a common purpose that is not affected by whether we always agree or not. But he said it was a matter of principle, and he had stuck to his of getting Wi-Fi to 10 million more kids by next year, which he called a good day's work.
“The chairman did not need to do it this way. Deliberations at the FCC need to include all commissioners. Period.” said Walden, who had already registered his concerns about the item in a letter to Wheeler about the substance of the E-Rate changes and the potential for raising the fund's cap. “When commissioners don’t receive drafts of proposals until shortly before the vote, there has been a colossal breakdown of process, collegiality, and trust that should characterize the work of the commission. [F]or the sake of sound policymaking, public confidence and good process, commissioners should have ample time and ability to thoughtfully consider items before voting on them.”
“Today’s item on improving the Universal Service Fund schools and libraries program could have been a bipartisan success story – bringing 21st century educational tools to the students that need them to thrive,” said Latta in the joint statement. “Unfortunately, Chairman Wheeler’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach to working with his fellow commissioners has resulted in a partisan outcome that will ultimately place new costs on American consumers. The American people deserve better.”