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CONGRESS TO TARGET FCC AS NEXT REFORM PROJECT

WASHINGTON-With telecommunications reform behind it, Congress now wants to overhaul the Federal Communications Commission.

“The key issue is whether a regulatory agency-the Federal Communications Commission-devised in the 1930s based on the Interstate Commerce Commission model of the last century makes sense today as we prepare for the 21st century and the new telecommunications*…*law,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) last week in the first of two hearings on FCC reform.

Pressler and other GOP lawmakers want to downsize the FCC once the new telecommunications law is implemented and competition kicks in. The push to restructure the FCC gained steam last year after being advocated by The Progress and Freedom Foundation, a libertarian think tank.

But even Pressler admits now is not the time to revamp the FCC. “We need to pursue the course that minimizes any short-term impact on the agency,” said Pressler. “All would agree that the FCC’s priority now should be implementing the new legislation expeditiously and as I have made clear that can be accomplished within existing appropriations and budget constraints.”

Pressler said the telecommunications reform bill is only the first step in a broader agenda to reshape national telecommunications policy. FCC reorganization and spectrum reform are next.

Pressler said he is considering eliminating regulations deemed unnecessary in competitive communications markets; privatizing administrative and data processing functions; expanding private-sector frequency coordination; awarding public safety spectrum grants to states; ending FCC programs such as Competition Division and Office of Communications Business Opportunities that duplicate functions performed elsewhere in government and giving some FCC powers to the states.

Another proposal on the table is to transfer federal government spectrum oversight from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to the FCC, which is responsible today for nongovernment spectrum management.

Pressler loaded the deck with witnesses who strongly favored FCC reform. FCC commissioners will have a chance to respond at the next hearing.

“Technology has rendered not merely inefficacious, but counterproductive, the commission’s historic penchant to micromanage spectrum use,” said former FCC chairman Dennis Patrick, in written testimony.

Patrick urged the FCC to swiftly auction off remaining spectrum and limit regulation of the airwaves to banning co-channel and adjacent channel interference. He, too, voiced support for greater spectrum flexibility and for setting aside some frequencies for critical applications.

Kenneth Robinson, a former official of the NTIA and FCC, agreed with several of Pressler’s proposals and recommended several others to improve administration of the commission.

Harry Shooshan, former chief counsel and staff director of the House telecommunications subcommittee, and Albert Halprin, former FCC common carrier bureau chief, said Congress should consider putting telecommunications oversight under one administrator just as the United Kingdom and other countries have done. The men said the so-called “Oftel Model,” would cost less and be more efficient and accountable.

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