The FCC and its Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, took hits from both sides of the aisle in an oversight hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee Thursday (Dec. 5).
Democrats were particularly pointed in their criticisms of the commission over broadband mapping, internet deregulation, merger approvals and the funding cap on the Universal Service Fund, among other issues.
House Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) signaled that what the communications regulatory agency had was a failure to communicate.
Walden did not appear happy that he had to learn from a press release that the FCC was establishing a new $9 billion 5G rural subsidy fund, including a billion dollars for precision agriculture. He said it sounded good, but he had a lot of questions, including where the $9 billion is coming from and about the fact that there are still not accurate maps to show where broadband is and isn't.
"We expect to have a little more notice and a little more communication on some of these big announcements," he said, adding that that might have addressed some of the questions the FCC would be getting at the hearing.
Walden also signaled he did not appreciate not getting a heads up from Pai on his proposal to repeal the T-Band spectrum auction and retain it for public safety, a proposal Walden floated at the last FCC oversight hearing. He said he had not been taken up on his outreach on that offer, "so I must say I find it interesting that just last week the chairman called on Congress to repeal the T-Band auction mandate, which was not coordinated or discussed with me and my staff despite our efforts to find a solution."
House E&C Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) seconded that, saying he, too, had "serious concerns about the FCC providing little notice to the committee before undertaking significant actions like the $9 billion 5G fund." Pallone said he was also concerned about money being spent before good maps of broadband availability were available.
Pallone also complained about getting answers to letters from members only hours before oversight hearings.
He said there was bipartisan agreement that the FCC "needs to do better."