FCC and Dingell-grams: Democrats Begin Oversight
by Matt Stoller, Wed Dec 06, 2006 at 05:59:06 AM EST
Ok, so one of the subtler pieces of a Democratic takeover of Congress that you may not notice is that government is starting to work again. Let's take the FCC, the agency in charge of making sure our communications infrastructure is managed on behalf of the public interest. Here's the latest little incident from the FCC in which they grant power to big telecom, which the right-wingers who run the commission assume would go on unhindered, business as usual being the usual.
Kevin Martin, the Chairman of the FCC and a rabid right-wing partisan, was all set to force through a merger between AT&T and Bellsouth, creating the largest telecommunications company in the country. This has serious implications for net neutrality, because one of the conditions of the deal that AT&T has rejected is protections for net neutrality. With such a massive footprint, AT&T's market power would be excessive and their investment patterns would be determinative for the future of the internet.
The Washington Wire has the best summary I've read.
On Friday, Martin informed congressional leaders and incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D., Mich.) that he's asked the FCC's general counsel to decide whether Republican FCC member Robert McDowell should be cleared to vote on AT&T Inc.'s pending purchase of BellSouth Corp. McDowell has questioned whether he should vote since he most recently lobbied on behalf of a trade group that represents smaller phone companies, which oppose the deal. The merger review has bogged down in partisan politics at the FCC, which is split 2-2 without McDowell's vote.
The general counsel was expected to announce his decision as soon as today. On Tuesday evening, however, he received a dreaded "Dingell-gram" from the incoming chairman's office. House Democrats are seeking answers to 15 detailed questions about the chairman's interest in clearing McDowell "by Monday, December 11."
Martin was going to force McDowell to unrecuse himself so that the merger could go through without AT&T having to make any concessions. He still may do that so he can call in favors later when he pursues political office in North Carolina, as he is rumored to want to do. But he's going to get pulled before Dingell in the House if he breaks the administrative process so egregiously and inappropriately. Dingell-grams are scary pieces of paper, because Dingell is a very smart bulldog legislator who knows how to investigate and conduct hearings. And the FCC hasn't had any oversight in a LONG time.
Oh yeah, and Ed Markey, telecommunications subcommittee chair, and Daniel Inouye, Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, also have statements on this gross violation of process to benefit AT&T.
This is what oversight looks like, my friends. A Democratic Congress protects the public, and doesn't let Bush cronies grant power to business elites through abusive practices. Remember that the next time you hear pundits freaking out about whatever stupid piece of nonsense they gin up about Pelosi or Hoyer or Reid...