WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, today held an oversight hearing to examine the operations and public policy agenda of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). During the questioning period, Chairman Markey pressed FCC Chair Martin regarding why he had yet to investigate widespread allegations of possibly illegal disclosure of consumer phone records. In response, Martin made public a previously-unreleased March 6 letter (see letter: FCC Martin Letter to AG Gonzales (Mar 6 07).pdf) to Attorney General Gonzales asking the Justice Department to confirm the FCC’s view that the FCC should not initiate an investigation to protect the consuming public because it would pose an “unnecessary risk” to the national security of the United States.

Chairman Markey’s prepared statement follows:

Good Morning.  The subject of today’s oversight hearing is the Federal Communications Commission.  This year, as we look at the operation of the Commission, we will have the chance to assess whether the agency that is tasked with overseeing an important and vital sector of our national economy is properly organized for such a role.  In particular, our oversight will analyze whether it is operating at maximum efficiency, what constructive proposals can be considered to improve its operations, whether it is adhering to Congressional intent in implementing our nation’s laws, and to what extent its policy agenda advances the public interest. 

An overarching goal for this Subcommittee during this Congress will be to develop a plan for achieving ubiquitous, affordable broadband service to every American.  Right now, depending upon the ranking one chooses to cite, the U.S. is 15th in the world, or 21st, or 29th in broadband penetration.  Certainly some of the countries ahead of us in the rankings are not apt comparisons – Iceland, for example, is ahead of the U.S. but has half of its population in one city, Reykjavik, where the phone book lists people by their first name.  Yet several countries that have leapt ahead – Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, Israel, Finland, Canada, Belgium – surpass the U.S. not only in broadband penetration but also in speed.  The Commission still defines broadband at a minimum of just 200 kilobits per second –a speed that would only be considered broadband service in many other countries if it had a good gust of wind behind it.

The reality is that America currently suffers from the lack of an overarching broadband plan, a low speed threshold, poor data, and threats to the openness of the Internet.

The Commission has a role to play with Congress and this Subcommittee in each of these areas.  The Commission should explore ways to create incentives for investment in new technologies, how to animate the technology already in the ground - the copper network – for broadband services and competition, how to modernize and rationalize universal service, and how to ensure that wireless broadband networks, municipal broadband networks and others can interconnect with the incumbent in an efficient and cost-effective way.  This Subcommittee will hold several hearings on Internet freedom and network neutrality later this year so I won’t dwell on that subject here other than to say it is an indispensable policy for the future of the Web and must be addressed in a way that safeguards the open architecture that has made the Internet so vital in so many sectors of our economy and our society.

An important step the Commission could take soon to advance our broadband goals would be to revamp its data collection and analysis.  We simply need a better and more accurate picture of broadband service in America.  This will help policymakers identify solutions and fine tune remedies for overcoming obstacles in achieving our national goals.

Improved data collection is something that also is a dire need in the area of media ownership.  It is imperative that the Commission know the extent of minority- and women-owned licenses.  The fact that this information is not readily available to the public is alarming and hinders the Commission’s work on promoting localism, media ownership, low power radio, small business participation in wireless auctions, and other important initiatives.  I hope this can be addressed soon as well.

Finally, I want to mention the Commission’s cable franchise order, which the Commission adopted in December on a 3-2 vote.  I am very concerned about the process by which the order was adopted and the effect that this Order will have on funding for PEG channels and institutional networks, or I-Nets.  These local cable access channels provide an important local voice in a media environment marked by consolidation and I-Nets are often used for public safety and homeland security purposes.

This is an important hearing and we welcome the FCC Commissioners here this morning and we intend to have them appear as frequent guests of this Subcommittee as we proceed forward this year.  Thank you.

March 14, 2007

CONTACT: Vikrum Aiyer
David Moulton