FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.FCC
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The Federal Communications Commission has deleted every major item from the agenda of its monthly meeting, apparently submitting to a request from Republicans to halt major rulemakings until Donald Trump is inaugurated as president.
Republicans from the House and Senate sent letters to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler yesterday urging him to stand down in his final months as chairman. The GOP pointed out that the FCC halted major rulemakings eight years ago after the election of Barack Obama when prompted by a similar request by Democrats.
Wheeler’s office hadn’t said whether it will comply with the request, but today it announced the deletion of all items that were originally scheduled to be presented and voted on at tomorrow’s meeting. The FCC said the items “remain on circulation,” which means they can still be voted on, but a vote doesn’t appear likely.
Before the change, the agenda included votes on price caps for “special access” business data services; Universal Service funding to expand mobile broadband networks; wireless roaming obligations; and requirements for audio description of TV programming for blind and visually impaired people. The only item not deleted from tomorrow’s meeting is part of the “consent agenda,” which means it is routine and wasn’t going to be presented individually.
Of the major items, the business data services proposal had received the most attention. These are dedicated wireline circuits provided by traditional phone companies like AT&T and Verizon; the services supply bandwidth for cellular data networks, indirectly affecting the price consumers pay for wireless service. The business data services are also used by banks and retailers to connect ATM machines and credit card readers, by government and corporate users to connect branch offices and data centers, and to support public safety operations and health care facilities.
The now-deleted agenda item would have phased in price cap decreases of 11 percent over three years to account for “over a decade of efficiency gains” since the last price cap adjustment.
Wheeler’s attempt to impose new set-top box rules that help consumers avoid paying cable box rental fees may also be doomed. Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge sent a letter to Trump today urging him to side with consumers instead of “cable and Hollywood lobbyists” on the issue.
While Wheeler’s set-top box rules weren’t on tomorrow’s agenda, the FCC could technically vote on them at any time. But the mass agenda deletion seems to be a strong signal that Wheeler’s FCC is done making major rule changes.
Public Knowledge Senior VP Harold Feld was disappointed by the agenda deletion. “While respecting the tradition that the FCC should generally wait for the new administration before acting on any new initiatives, these items were essentially completed and ready to move,” Feld said. “More importantly, the agenda items address real and pressing problems in the broadband marketplace. These problems do not simply go away due to an administration change.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.FCC