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Key House Committee Members Act to Spur FCC on Programs

These oversight actions indicate that Congress senses problems with the programs

J.J. Smith Key members of House committees have been busy during June, taking steps to ensure the Federal Communications Commission is not dragging its feet on crucial audiovisual-communications technology programs. One such step is bipartisan, another comes from the GOP side of the aisle, but both indicate areas of possible concern.

At the forefront is the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. On June 27, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., directed Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., to oversee monthly meetings on the reallocation of government-held spectrum conducted by the FCC, the Department of Defense and the National Telecommunications and Information Agency.

Upton and Waxman did so during a subcommittee hearing on “Equipping Carriers and Agencies in the Wireless Era.” The hearing focused on how quickly the FCC is moving on the initiative to free government-held spectrum within the 1755–1850 MHz band for use by wireless carriers for smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices. At the hearing, a DoD official said the agencies involved are waiting for direction from the FCC “in terms what is going to happen” with the planned spectrum auctions.

The subcommittee’s leaders were concerned that the agencies “are not making progress fast enough” on the initiative, said Walden adding that he and Eshoo will oversee the meetings.

The second initiative is a lengthy letter from several Republicans to the FCC asking if it has applied sufficient oversight to both the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund and the Video Relay Service. Signing it were Walden; Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy, Pa.; Health Subcommittee Vice Chairman Michael Burgess, Texas; and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Vice Chairman Bob Latta, Ohio.

The IRSF and VRS are the federal programs that pay for telephone relay services for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers; both programs have been fraught with corruption, according to the Congressional Research Service. Specifically, callers who were not deaf were using the services as a way to increase federal reimbursements to the service providers.

These oversight actions indicate that Congress senses problems with the programs. If so, the leadership’s actions are a responsible course. Even if it turns out there are no problems, the FCC can use the opportunity to demonstrate that its programs are on track. Either way, kudos to the lawmakers for stepping up and taking the lead.