Some Thoughts on this Week’s FCC Oversight Hearing…

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This week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held an oversight hearing of the Federal Communications Commission.  As to be expected, the issues covered ranged far and wide, demonstrating once again the diversity, multitude and complexity of issues pending before policymakers.  While I have no intention of commenting on them all in this blog post, I would like to highlight a few observations.

First and foremost, it was a pleasure to watch new FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai answer questions with both thoughtfulness and, more importantly, significant substantive knowledge about the complexities of our industry.  Both have certainly “earned their bones” by coming up through the ranks and having such talented telecom lawyers as members of the Commission should contribute significantly to sound policymaking.

While much of the discussion focused appropriately on the status of the scheduled voluntary incentive auctions and the exploration of possible ways to get more government spectrum allocated for commercial use, what struck me as particularly interesting was Chairman Genachowski’s inconsistent signals on his intention to expand regulation or maintain deregulation for advanced communications services.  For example, when pushed directly by Chairman Fred Upton, the Chairman testified that he had no plans to revisit the agency’s 2003 decision to forbear from the regulation of advanced IP fiber networks.  Yet, at the same time, the Chairman was adamant that he had no intention to close the docket he initiated to potentially reclassify Title I services (including IP services) as a Title II common carrier services, thereby greasing the wheels of his regulatory machine.  And, the Chairman promised to release very soon an order that would revisit the agency’s paradigm to deregulate “special access” high capacity circuits.  If IP networks are to remain deregulated, then it is unclear what purpose special access regulation serves, other than to heap a bunch of regulation on yesterday’s technology (the bulk of are only 1.5 megabits per second circuits).  As we pointed out in blog posts here, here and here, while good data is essential to informed policymaking, it is unclear what benefit we get from continued and/or expanded price regulation of special access services.  I was likewise a little puzzled by the Chairman’s commitment to special access regulation given his view that by removing “outdated” and “unnecessary” rules the agency “will help accelerate the rollout” of various services.  Apparently, the Chairman believes “special access” is truly “special”, since unlike the other services the FCC regulates, more regulation is believed to be good for deployment in the case of legacy special access services.  Then again, the Chairman has never been much for consistency.

Finally, I was ecstatic to see the FCC’s “revamped” webpage receive the Congressional scorn it so richly deserves.  My only regret is that nobody asked the Chairman to produce data on how many people click-through to the old FCC webpage.  While perhaps not the fanciest webpage, at least it works.