FCC nominees get OK; FCC may revisit fee schedule
The Federal Communications Commission is a step closer to getting its leadership in place, now that the Senate Commerce Committee has approved the nominations of Mignon Clyburn and Margaret Attwell Baker as commissioners.
Their nominations now move forward for a vote by the full Senate. The vote could come as early as the end of this week.
Clyburn is a member of South Carolina's public service commission and daughter of House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Baker most recently led the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
Separately, the FCC looks like it’s on its way to an overhaul, including revising the assessment and collection of regulatory fees, which are scheduled to increase.
In a letter from commissioner Robert McDowell to Chairman Julius Genachowski, McDowell reviews conversations among the two and commissioner Michael Copps about updating the agency’s strategic plan, a possible restructuring, and conducting an operational, financial and ethics audit.
(In the letter, McDowell crosses out the obligatory salutation “Dear Mr. Chairman” and handwrites “Julius” in its place. He also consistently refers to Copps as “Mike” – all of which can be taken as encouraging signs of an air of collegiality, an openness notably missing during Kevin Martin’s tenure as chairman.)
McDowell discusses reducing the fees and taxes levied on the industry to support the agency’s activities. As much as $25 million is collected that the FCC does not need for operations – money that goes straight to the U.S. Treasury, he writes.
Simple mention of fee reduction elicited an immediate and enthusiastic response from the American Cable Association. “Small, independent cable operators are staring at large increases this year if the agency sticks with the status quo,” ACA CEO Matthew Polka said. “Moreover, cable operators have historically paid higher per-subscriber regulatory fees than satellite providers, despite the fact that the two entities compete against each other for the same customers.”
The ACA proposed that the FCC should freeze regulatory fees at fiscal 2008 levels for cable operators with 5,000 subscribers or fewer. About three-quarters of ACA members fit the 5,000-or-fewer benchmark.
Separately, the ACA submitted documents to the FCC, encouraging the Commission to fund middle-mile broadband facilities and permit small, independent cable providers to access those networks on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms to ensure that consumers in rural areas can enjoy the same rapid download speeds widely available to consumers in urban locations.
The FCC has already signaled that broadband policy would encourage so-called middle-mile connectivity.
"Broadband speeds in rural America are not what they could be because ACA members route traffic to the Internet backbone over slow and expensive middle-mile facilities that unfortunately have not been upgraded by their owners in many years," Polka said. "The FCC could turn this disappointing situation around by funding middle-middle infrastructure projects and demanding that those critical links remain available to ACA members and similarly situated third parties on fair and reasonable terms."