Wednesday, January 31, 2007

FCC Commissioners Testify before Democratically-controlled Senate Committee

All five FCC Commissioners were called to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee, their first such appearance since the Democrats regained control of Congress. Top issues included the recent acquisition of BellSouth by AT&T, the Universal Service Fund (USF), rural broadband deployment and the Digital Divide.

Questions posed by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii, challenged FCC Chairman Martin on whether he would enforce all of the conditions agreed to in the AT&T+BellSouth merger approval. Martin said he stood by his vote, but that this deal could not be used to change FCC policy or commission rules or regulations affecting other companies. In particular, Martin said that AT&T had volunteered to abide by several Net Neutrality principles, and that the FCC would enforce these conditions. However, Martin said these did not change FCC policy overall.

A subsequent appearance by the FCC Commissioners before the House Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled for later this month.

Some highlights of the opening testimony from the FCC Commissioners:

  • Kevin Martin (Chairman): "I am pleased to report that the state of the communications industry is strong. As you no doubt remember, in the year 2000, the communications industry began a precipitous and far-reaching decline. Capital spending by companies followed this market decline, innovation disappeared and companies went out of business taking jobs with them. What a difference six years make. In 2006, the communications industry experienced record growth and, by most measures, almost all sectors have rebounded remarkably. In 2006, the S&P 500 telecommunications sector was the strongest performing sector, up 32% over the previous year."

  • Michael Copps: "I hope this Congress will push the FCC to be a more proactive participant in developing a strategy and developing solutions. Have us gather better statistics about our country's woeful broadband situation. Set our agency's talented engineers and policy gurus to work writing reports and teeing up options for you to consider about how we can inject life back into our nation's stagnant broadband market."

  • Jonathan Adelstein: "I am concerned that the U.S. is not keeping pace with our global competitors.  Each year we slip further down the regular rankings of broadband penetration.  This is more than a public relations problem.  Citizens of other countries are simply getting more megabits for less money."


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