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FCC Focus of Senate Hearing

Thune criticizes Wheeler on several issues

The chairman of the U.S. Senate committee with oversight of the Federal Communications Commission held a hearing Thursday to discuss policy questions and discuss the perceived internal divisiveness at the government agency.

Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, accused Chairman Tom Wheeler of “choosing partisanship over compromise” and “pursuing a partisan agenda” for his handling of FCC net neutrality rules, privacy issues and other policies. The Republican South Dakota senator reiterated several times the accountability of the independent agency has to Congress and the public.

Sen. Thune listed a number of Wheeler’s leadership failures amid unprecedented partisanship. “Under Chairman Wheeler, this agency has too often pursued a highly partisan agenda that appears driven by ideological beliefs more than by its overreading of the law. Chairman Wheeler has forced 3-2 votes on party line items a total of 25 times. To put that in perspective, in the three years under Chairman Wheeler, the FCC has seen nearly twice as many partisan votes as in the previous 20 years combined,” Thune said.

FCC commissioners Mignon Clyburn, Michael O’Rielly, Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel also came to deliver remarks and answer the committee’s questions.

Chairman Wheeler opened his remarks suggesting this would be his last appearance before the committee and promised he would work with a new administration at the White House to ensure a smooth transition at the agency.

The FCC continues to plan for the post-auction transition and repacking of TV stations, Wheeler said. He also spoke on set-top boxes, next generation 911 and cybersecurity along with several other topics.

During questioning from Sen. Thune, Wheeler said the body is “collegial and deliberative” and wishes to find ways to resolve issues in a “concomitant manner.”

The hearing comes as the FCC is in the process of cutting field staff and closing many field offices as part of a plan to modernize operations.

The FCC in January will close field offices in Buffalo, N.Y., Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Norfolk, Va., Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle and Tampa, Fla.

FCC field offices will remain open in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Columbia, Md., Dallas, Denver, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Portland, Ore., and San Francisco. So called Tiger Teams are supposed to be to supplement enforcement efforts of other field offices and when necessary to support high-priority enforcement actions nationwide.

Wheeler on Hill: Next-Gen 911, Cybersecurity Are Priorities