The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee completed work on a bill to reauthorize the Federal Communications Commission for the next five years, including a provision that would ban companies from covering the travel costs of agency officials.
Under the new rule, groups like the National Cable & Telecommunications Association would be banned from funding travel expenses of FCC commissioners or staff to conferences, conventions or meetings.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the committee chairman, said the bill's higher level of funding authorization should cover all of the commission's necessary travel expenses.
While final funding for the FCC will be set by appropriations committees, the panel's bill would set the maximum budget for the commission at $281 million for the next fiscal year, gradually it increasing to more than $334 million for fiscal 2007.
McCain said he was stirred to action by a recent report from Center for Public Integrity, which showed that organizations with business before the agency had paid $2.8 million to fund more than 2,500 trips by commissioners and FCC staff since May 1995.
By 13-8, the panel adopted an amendment by Sens. John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to reserve the band of spectrum from 12.2 Gigahertz to 12.7 GHz for fixed-terrestrial communications services.
Sponsors said the idea is to rural areas get high-speed Internet services and broadcast signals.
"This is a victory for consumers who currently pay too much for cable and broadband service, or worse, can't get service," said Northpoint Communications executive vice president Toni Cook Bush.
Other organizations, like the National Taxpayers Union, a government-spending watchdog group, called the change a bad deal.
"The fact is that politically well-connected Northpoint engineered this 'sweetheart' legislation," said Al Cors Jr., the NTU's vice president for government affairs. "The measure gives away $100 million worth of valuable direct-broadcast satellite broadcast spectrum to Northpoint."
McCain voted against the amendment, and the White House opposes the proposal.
The committee also briefly addressed the FCC's recent loosening of restrictions on media ownership.
Under an amendment offered by Sununu and adopted by the panel, the commission would be required to review those regulations every four years.
The legislation also includes a provision that would allow the FCC to regulate descriptions on video programming to ensure the accessibility of such programming to visually impaired individuals.
And the panel adopted a McCain amendment requiring the FCC to provide guidance regarding political-advertising regulations, and to adopt a procedure to resolve complaints regarding political ads. McCain was one of the public faces of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, which passed last year.
States News Service