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Hill GOP Leaders Officially Ask Wheeler to Ramp It Down

Letter to FCC chair says to focus on transition to new administration

The chairs of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee have officially asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler not to consider “complex and controversial items that the new Congress and administration will have an interest in reviewing,” asking him to focus instead on completing the incentive auction.

Chief among those are revisions of the regulatory framework for the business data services marketplace and a set-top box revamp proposal. The latter is on circulation for a vote by the other commissioners, while the former is scheduled for a public vote Nov. 17.

There is precedent for cancelling such a vote. Eight years ago, the Democratic leadership made a similar request of then Republican FCC chairman Kevin Martin, who wound up cancelling voting, a point not lost on E&C Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

“As Rep. Henry Waxman and Senator Rockefeller noted during the 2008 Presidential transition,” they wrote, “it would be counterproductive” to consider those “complex and controversial” items—a request Wheeler is familiar with, given that he was on the Obama tech transition team.

“The most important challenge for the commission over the next ten weeks is to ensure a successful broadcast incentive auction,” they said.

That auction is currently in its third stage and will likely extend into early 2017. Wheeler will have to exit the chair Jan. 20 or soon after if an interim chair — likely Commissioner Ajit Pai — is named, as is expected.

“We strongly urge you to concentrate the commission’s attention and resources only on matters that require action under the law and efforts to foster the success of the broadcast incentive auction.”

There is still plenty of work to be done on the auction, including finalizing a post-auction TV station repack plan.