Markey, Wyden Lift Holds on Democratic FCC Nomination

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By Lydia Beyoud

Nov. 18 — A pair of Democratic senators have lifted their holds on fellow Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel’s renomination to the Federal Communications Commission.

Sens. Edward J. Markey (Mass.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) dropped their opposition to Rosenworcel a day after announcing they were blocking a Senate floor vote on her nomination to a second term. Still, it’s unclear whether Rosenworcel will be reconfirmed by the Senate before the 114th Congress adjourns.

The turnabout came after discussions among Markey, Wyden, Rosenworcel and their aides. Markey and Wyden were reassured that Rosenworcel was committed to working on advancing several proposals viewed as critical policy measures by Democrats but opposed by Republicans in Congress and at the commission.

Rosenworcel’s renomination had been stymied by months of political gridlock between Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). It’s uncertain whether those roadblocks, one of which is an announcement from current FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler about when he plans to resign, will be overcome before Congress adjourns. A spokesman for Rosenworcel declined to comment.

A Markey spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail that Markey and Rosenworcel had positive conversations after the hold was placed, and there is a shared commitment to continue working to move forward on matters on the current commission’s agenda. Wyden’s office called for strong consumer protections at the FCC.

“Now more than ever, strong leadership is needed at the FCC to protect consumers from consolidated powers in the cable and telecommunications industry,” a Wyden spokeswoman said via e-mail. “Senator Wyden was assured that Commissioner Rosenworcel is committed to working toward consensus on all items before the Commission this year, including the Mobility Fund, and has lifted his hold on her nomination,” she said.

The senators announced the block Nov. 17 on a Rosenworcel floor vote. They perceived her as responsible for failing to help Wheeler push past opposition by the commission’s two Republicans to vote on several controversial policy items, including rules to overhaul the pay-TV industry set-top box market, and an expansion of the Mobility Fund, which helps provide telecom companies provide telecommunications services in rural and under-served areas.

Wheeler dropped four planned votes from the FCC’s Nov. 17 meeting agenda following pressure from congressional Republicans not to make major regulatory moves during the remainder of the Obama administration.

Senators Push FCC on Zero Rating Action

Separately, a group of seven Democratic senators, including Markey, Wyden, and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), asked the FCC Nov. 18 to take enforcement action on zero-rating practices under its open internet rules. Zero rating allows broadband providers to offer consumers access to applications, websites and other online services without counting it toward their data caps.

“Without proper oversight and enforcement action, zero-rating can discriminate against certain services, potentially distorting competition, stifling innovation, and hampering user choice and free speech,” the senators said in a letter to Wheeler.

The FCC has taken little action on zero-rating since approving its controversial open internet rules in 2015. The commission sent a letter to broadband provider AT&T Inc. Nov. 9 warning it that its plans to zero-rate certain DirecTV content for its mobile wireless customers could harm competition and violate net neutrality principles.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

For More Information

The Senators’ letter to Wheeler can be found at: http://src.bna.com/kcm

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