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House Committee To Probe FCC

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Created 01/11/2008 - 8:37am

from: Consumer Affairs [1]

House Committee To Probe FCC
FCC instructed to retain e-mail records for use by investigators

by Martin H. Bosworth

January 10, 2008

Even as Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Kevin Martin was promising that his agency would investigate Comcast on charges of blocking Internet access, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced its own plans to investigate the FCC's legislative rulemaking and rulings of late.

Committee chairman John Dingell (D-MI) and ranking minority member Joe Barton (R-TX) sent a letter to the commission on January 8th, informing Martin that the committee would be investigating FCC regulatory procedures "to determine if they are being conducted in a fair, open, efficient, and transparent manner."

Dingell also advised Martin to retain all e-mails and correspondence relating to official FCC business.

"To be clear, no such records shall be destroyed, modified, altered, deleted, removed, relocated, or otherwise negligently or intentionally handled so as to make them inaccessible to the committee," Dingell said.

The investigation comes on the heels of a previous inquiry by the committee regarding what Dingell called "a breakdown of proper procedure at the FCC." The inquiry was sent in regards to the FCC's Dec. 18th vote on relaxing restrictions on media consolidation in individual markets.

Consumer advocates, media watchdogs, and even several of Martin's fellow commissioners criticized him for rushing the vote, limiting public discussion and comment, and scheduling meetings with little notice or warning.

The speed with which Martin pushed to pass the vote led members of the Senate to introduce legislation specifically to block the new rules until more examination of their effects could be made.

Dingell had previously called all five FCC commissioners to testify before his committee for pushing video franchising legislation that enabled telecom companies to enter into new agreements with cities and municipalities much faster than cable companies could.

Dingell, along with fellow committee members Ed Markey (D-MA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), criticized the FCC and Martin in particular for overstepping their bounds and being out of touch with the public.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in October 2007 that the FCC not only provided business interests and lobby groups special access to its rulings prior to their being made public, but that those rulings were often based on data provided by the very same interests and groups.

Martin defended the agency's rule-making procedures as "very similar to how the commission has been managed under previous Republican and Democratic commissioners and chairmen."

"I was actually at the commission as a staffer when there were Democratic commissioners and a Democratic chairman, and we run the processes in the same way they were run at the time," said Martin.

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