Fiery Exchanges During FCC Budget Hearing Expose Party Divisions


UPDATE The House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the FCC’s FY2025 budget request earlier this year was calm. But yesterday’s hearing on the same topic in a subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee was combative. The agency seeks a budget of just over $448 million, representing a more than 14 percent increase.

“This amount will ensure that the Commission can meet its statutory mandates and uphold the core values of our laws—consumer protection, universal service, national security, and public safety—all while keeping pace with ever changing and advancing technologies,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel testified to lawmakers. She stressed the need for Congress to restore the agency’s auction authority and urged lawmakers to re-fund Rip & Replace and the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP.)

However Communications & Technology Subcommittee Chair Bob Latta (R-OH) and full Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) focused their questions on the Commission’s divided 3-2 vote earlier this year to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II. They said that change “imposes utility-style regulations on internet services and was originally enacted during the Great Depression to address telephone monopolies.”

Rodgers said the so-called Net Neutrality vote “undermined” the committee’s effort to bridge the digital divide. “The vote could not have come at a worse time when Congress is close to closing the digital divide.” She called Net Neutrality “a solution in search of a problem,” and emphasized the Title II reclassification “will result in higher prices and slower internet speeds.”

She called the decision an example of the FCC “abusing its authority” to “assert more control over American people’s lives,” and looks forward “to overturning unlawful power grabs,” a reference to the recent Supreme Court’s “Chevron” decision that reigns in federal agency power. “Today’s hearing presents an opportunity to hold the FCC accountable for its actions,” Rodgers declared.

Debbie Dingell (D-MI), read a statement for Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ), commending the FCC “for putting the American people at the heart of every decision over the past three years.” The Net Neutrality “action corrected a Trump-era misguided rollback of broadband protections. The Net Neutrality decision,” said Dingell, “will create more oversight of broadband, and a greater response to consumer complaints.”

Commissioner Brendan Carr told lawmakers he opposed the nearly 15 percent budget increase, which is “out of step with the House focus on reigning in government spending.” Carr also called the Biden BEAD program an example of “massive regulatory overreach that puts partisan goals ahead of good policy.”

“It’s a program going off the rails,” Carr said, noting it’s been “967 days since the program was announced and not one person gets the internet, no shovel [has hit the ground.] The administration says projects won’t start until next year at the earliest. That makes the Biden Administration’s [progress] the slowest in history.”

“Members of Congress wrote to the FCC two years ago to warn the program would be mired in bureaucracy,” Carr said. “NTIA’s been layering on red tape, [including] price controls and preferences for government-run networks.”

Concerning the ACP, Dorius Matsui (D-CA) said it “significantly addressed disparities” between unserved and underserved communities versus those areas that have several choices for broadband. She asked Rosenworcel what the agency is doing to close the digital divide now that the program has lapsed.

“We’re proud of the work we did to get it up and running. Now we want to sustain that momentum. We’re informing people about other programs and monitoring complaints from consumers.” Rosenworcel said.

Matsui said the “ongoing funding shortfall means the job” of Rip & Replace is “far from over.” She asked FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks what rural carriers face. “I’ve always said network security is national security. With the providers only receiving 40 cents on the dollar, those serving military installations especially, “have vulnerabilities.”

The schism between the Republicans and the Democrats really came to the forefront during an exchange between Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Carr. Eshoo is not running again when her term ends, Inside Towers reported. She said: “This may be the last time I participate in an FCC hearing,” noting her 30 years as a member of the subcommittee.

Addressing Carr, Eshoo said, “It’s obvious I don’t agree with you. I ran for Congress to lift people up. To disparage the BEAD program, that looks after the working stiff of this country, I think is just dead wrong. Every Republican on this committee and subcommittee voted against expanding broadband. For 20 years the Republicans were wringing their hands,” saying ‘we need a map.’ Now we have it and [they say] it’s wrong.”

Then Eshoo asked Rosenworcel if she wanted to address something Carr said earlier on a different topic. Rosenworcel began to answer and Latta calmly said Eshoo’s time was up. Rosenworcel continued answering and Latta banged his gavel. Finally, he slammed the gavel down and she stopped.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief 



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