Experts expect tech policy gridlock in contest for control of key House chair
Video: Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) says he's confident he'll take over Energy and Commerce committee.
One day before Election Day, and with the House expected to turn over to Republicans, at least three lawmakers are jockeying to take over the powerful seat of Energy and Commerce committee chair.
What does it mean if Joe Barton (R-Tex), Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) or Fred Upton (R-Mich.) lead the committee? Gridlock on telecom and tech policy, analysts say.
“I don’t anticipate significant change in telecom legislation in the next two years,” said Earl Comstock, head of Comstock Consulting and former legislative director for Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
Observers say there is little to distinguish the three on their approach to tech and telecom policy. All three will strongly oppose legislation on net neutrality and may even threaten to take away funding from the Federal Communications Commission if FCC Chairman Julius Geanchowski pushes through on his proposed regulation.
Upton has called Genachowski’s push to reassert authority over broadband services a “blind power grab.” Barton dismissed legislation for net neutrality by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) last month. And Stearns said that a net neutrality bill needs more consideration, and that if the FCC tries to redefine broadband as a telecom service, he’d pull funding for the agency.
This, observers say, is in line with the position of broadband service providers, who don’t really want new legislation, as the FCC deliberates its regulatory course.
“We believe Republican mid-term election gains would generally strengthen the hand of the Bells, cable, and broadcasters over their telecom, media and tech rivals” such as Dish Network and Google, wrote Rebecca Arbogast, analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, in a report Monday.
She said the FCC could try to carry out Genachowski’s net neutrality proposal without redefining broadband services. But public interest groups worry that the FCC could face legal opposition to its authority every time it tries to enforce its new rules.
Universal service reforms – that would put money from a phone fund into broadband expansion – will be harder. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) has advocated for that reform in the House, but he could lose his seat. Eyes would then turn to the Senate, where Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who supports reforms, could retain his seat over the Commerce Committee. Bells would fight against the FCC’s moves toward reforming special-access fee rules that allow telecom firms to set prices for wireless companies to lease their land-based networks to connect calls.
Broadcasters would be emboldened by Republican gains, helping them ward off legislation expected to be introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to allow the FCC to take a more aggressive role in television retransmission disputes. And while the idea of getting more airwaves out for mobile broadband is embraced by Republican and Democrats, Arbogast wrote that broadcasters will have a stronger voice against any legislation that makes them give up airwaves.
What will get done? Privacy and tax reforms (check out my previous post that includes these issues).
And as telecom and cable firms start digging ground for broadband stimulus projects, Republicans are expected to scrutinize the projects in hearings over how well the “shovel-ready” grants have helped stimulate the economy.
| November 1, 2010; 4:25 PM ET
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