U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today at a hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission” questioned the five members of the FCC about its controversial Open Internet Order.
Video of the questions for the commissioners is here and remarks as prepared for delivery are below.
“Welcome to today’s oversight hearing on the Federal Communications Commission. Every day, every single American relies on some part of our nation’s vast communications system – the Internet, the telephone, television, GPS, or the radio. An efficient, effective communications system is the bedrock of our nation’s economy and it is the tie that binds together our 21st century society.
“The FCC sits right in the middle of America’s digital world. And this is even more true following the FCC’s recent decision to turn our nation’s broadband Internet infrastructure into a public utility. As is apparent from that action last month, the FCC is also a potentially threatening and unpredictable agency as it struggles to operate under legal authority designed nearly 100 years ago and not seriously updated in decades.
“To be clear, today’s hearing is not a response to the Title II order, but clearly no discussion about the FCC can ignore one of the most significant and most controversial decisions in the agency’s history. My views on this subject are well known. I believe there should be clear rules for the digital road with clear authority for the FCC to enforce them. I have put forward a draft bill with my House colleagues to begin the legislative discussion about how best to put such rules into statute. Like most first drafts, our draft bill is not perfect. I invite members of this committee and stakeholders from across the political spectrum to offer us ideas on how we can improve it, so that the final draft can win bipartisan support and provide everyone in the Internet world with the certainty that they need.
“The FCC’s recent action accomplished the exact opposite. Rather than exercising regulatory humility, the three majority commissioners chose to take the most radical, polarizing, and partisan path possible. Instead of working with me and my colleagues in the House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, to find a consensus, the three of you chose an option that I believe will only increase political, regulatory, and legal uncertainty, which will ultimately hurt average Internet users. Simply put, your actions jeopardize the open Internet that we are all seeking to protect.
“The tech and telecom industries agree on few regulatory matters, but there was one idea that unified them for nearly two decades – the Internet is not the telephone network, and you cannot apply the old rules of telecom to the new world of the Internet. Three weeks ago, three regulators turned their backs on that consensus, and I believe the Internet and its users will ultimately suffer for it.
“The debate over the open Internet illustrates the importance of the FCC, which makes it all the more amazing that Congress has not reauthorized the FCC since then-Representative Markey’s bill was passed a quarter century ago. Indeed, the FCC is the oldest expired authorization within this committee’s expansive jurisdiction – a situation that I intend to rectify this Congress.
“Today’s hearing marks the beginning of the Commerce Committee’s efforts to write and pass legislation to reauthorize the FCC. I know that contentious matters like Title II divide the membership of this committee, but FCC reauthorization is an area where I believe Republicans and Democrats can and should work together. Wanting the FCC to be an effective, efficient, and accountable regulator shouldn’t be a partisan goal. I know members on both sides of the aisle have common-sense ideas to make the agency more responsive to the needs of consumers, Congress, and regulated companies alike, and I look forward to hearing their suggestions and views. And I look forward to hearing the commissioners’ thoughts today about ways Congress can help their agency improve.
“Writing a new FCC reauthorization bill should not be a one-off effort. It is my hope that the committee will get back to regularly authorizing the commission as part of its normal course of business. In order to do that effectively, the committee must be diligent in its oversight. As such, the commission should expect to come before this committee again.
“How the commission works is just as important as what the commission does. In addition to discussing important communications policy matters, I hope members will use today’s hearing to explore the Commission’s operations, processes, and budget. For example, the FCC has requested $530 million dollars for Fiscal Year 2016. This funding level would be the highest in the Commission’s history. That alone raises eyebrows, particularly when American households continue to do more with less in this stagnant economy, but the FCC also wants to fund this increase in part by raiding the Universal Service Fund.
“Paying for record high budgets by siphoning money from USF is a dangerous precedent. While members of this committee may have varying views on the USF’s efficiency, scope, and growth, one thing I think we can all agree on is that its limited funds should not be used as a reserve fund to pay for the FCC’s core statutory functions. That’s what the Commission’s regulatory fees are for. USF funds should pay for USF services, and I don’t believe the FCC should jeopardize the stability and integrity of the Universal Service Fund in order to paper over its record high budget request.
“Given the significant interest in hearing from the commission today, I do not expect this hearing will be a short one. In order to more quickly get to members’ questions, I have asked that all the witnesses limit their oral statements to three minutes apiece. Their longer written statements will be submitted for the record.
“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses in what I hope will be a productive afternoon.”