Democrats Rip FCC's GOP Commissioners

Article excerpt

Byline: Kara Rowland, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Democratic lawmakers ripped into the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission yesterday, confronting Chairman Kevin J. Martin with a litany of complaints ranging from hasty decision-making to overstepping his legal authority.

"The FCC has strayed from its sole duty - that is, to implement the laws as passed by the Congress," Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, warned in his opening remarks. "The FCC is not a legislative body. That role rests with this committee, with the people's elected representatives."

Mr. Dingell and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, California Democrat, were among the agency's harshest critics during a hearing that summoned all five commissioners before the Energy and Commerce telecommunications and the Internet subcommittee.

"What concerns me most is the lack of transparency and fairness in the commission's deliberations, regardless of the outcome," said Mrs. Eshoo, who accused Mr. Martin of fostering a "nontransparent, heavy-handed decision-making process" during his tenure as chairman.

Lawmakers raised a number of topics, including broadband Internet penetration, cable franchising rules, public safety, media ownership, net neutrality and media company mergers.

The hearing marked the first time in several years the full commission had appeared before the Energy and Commerce Committee or any of its subcommittees.

Mr. Dingell and other critics of Mr. Martin made it clear that the new Democratic-led committee plans to schedule more oversight hearings in the future.

Mr. Martin and his Republican colleagues, Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert McDowell, defended the agency's free-market approach and touted progress in areas such as broadband deployment and the creation of a public safety division to improve emergency communications.

"The commission has tried to make decisions based on that fundamental belief in promoting a robust, competitive marketplace," Mr. Martin said. "Competition drives prices down and spurs providers to improve service and create new products."

Mrs. Eshoo suggested the commission may have been too business-friendly in approving the AT&T-Bell South merger, albeit with a number of conditions to protect consumers. …