Washington – Top House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans are supporting the Democratic-led investigation of the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission to honor the panel’s bipartisan tradition when probing the actions of independent agencies, a Republican committee staff member said Thursday.
"The bread and butter of oversight on this committee is transparency. The commitment to achieve it was determined and bipartisan when Republicans led investigations of [the] E-rate [subsidized Internet access for schools], [the National Institutes of Health] and the [Food and Drug Administration],” said a GOP committee aide, who declined to speak on the record.
The aide added, “And it hasn't changed simply because Democrats are in the majority now and we're looking into things like how the FCC regulates cable TV. In fact, we've noticed that when people sign up for cable, nobody makes you pick either the Democratic HBO or the Republican HBO."
Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) opened the FCC probe in January, warning FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a Bush appointee, not to destroy records or prevent staff from speaking to committee investigators.
Dingell’s FCC investigation has the firm support of Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), the committee’s most senior Republican, and Rep. John Shimkus (Il.), the ranking GOP member on the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.
The five-member FCC is controlled by Martin and two other Republicans, Robert McDowell and Deborah Taylor Tate. All three were appointed by President Bush. Dingell became chairman in January 2007.
Barton and Shimkus signed Dingell’s letter Wednesday that ordered Martin to retain and surrender a vast amount of information relating to “allegations from current and former FCC employees and other sources, which we have reason to believe are credible” relating “to management practices that may adversely affect the [FCC’s] ability both to discharge effectively its statutory duties and to guard against waste, fraud, and abuse.”
Dingell’s is zeroing on two moves Martin made in an effort to escalate FCC regulation of the cable industry.
The first was in 2005 when Martin secretly ordered his staff to change a 2004 FCC report to Congress concluding that the a la carte sale of cable channels was a bad idea. Martin wasn’t chairman when the first report was released.
The second was last fall when Martin attempted to force the FCC to conclude that cable operator penetration had generally exceeded 70% of homes, triggering a provision in cable law – the so-called 70/70 test – that Martin said would equip the FCC with the authority to engage in much closer regulatory oversight of cable.
Martin was forced to back down when it turned he had relied on only one source of information -- Television & Cable Factbook, published annually by Warren Communications News -- to support his view and suppressed or discarded other data that contradicted it.
Martin has barraged cable with regulations because the industry refused to adopt an a la carte business model, which Martin says will expand choice and lower retail cable rates.
His attack on cable has caused the industry to initiate or join nine law suits, including two on Wednesday, designed to reverse Martin-inspired rules.