D.C. NOTES

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R- S.D.) says he’s perplexed by the Federal Communications Commission’s schedule for implementing the new telecommunications bill.

I’m equally perplexed by Pressler’s perplexity. Pressler asked the FCC why it’s trying to make a deregulatory bill regulatory. “As you are aware, Congress has already done the heavy lifting when it comes to policy choices in telecommunications reform,” said Pressler. “The Congress has established a clear pro-competitive, deregulatory national telecommunications policy. The FCC, as a creation of Congress, now has the straightforward task of implementing that congressional policy. So I am quite perplexed to find the FCC is not able to take expeditious action on a number of clear, self-executing items in the Act.”

Of course, Pressler is referring to the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

In reality, though, this is a prelude to Act I of “The Big FCC Shake Down” in 1996. Lawmakers will pick up last year’s episode in which Capitol Hill and conservative think tanks called daily for the agency’s elimination.

When FCC Chairman Reed Hundt laid out the 80 rulemakings to implement the telecom bill and vowed to “meet or beat” congressional deadlines, I was impressed. That the FCC is working harder and smarter than anytime in history is evidenced by the fact two top and highly effective aides to Hundt, Congressional Affairs Director Judy Harris and International Bureau Chief Scott Harris (no relation) are leaving the agency soon to reacquaint themselves with their families.

Pressler criticized the Wireless Telecom Bureau for intending to initiate a rulemaking on mobile services long-distance access when Congress explicitly exempted commercial wireless carriers from equal access obligations unless there is a good public interest reason to intervene.

The Pressler letter is not about mobile services access, though. It’s about an obsession with downsizing an independent agency of 2,220 hard-working civil servants and political appointees that boasts a temporary budget of $175.7 million and brings in billions of auction dollars for others.

Pressler and other Republicans will beat up on the FCC at authorization hearings this year. But what a waste of taxpayers’ money to spend so much effort nickel and diming the FCC.

The FCC no doubt could make some improvements. Fine. This witch-Hundt is getting old, though.

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