FCC scratches scheduled votes after GOP urges narrower focus

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The FCC scratched votes on several items on its agenda for Thursday’s meeting just one day after Republicans urged it to ease up on “controversial” issues ahead of Trump’s inauguration in January.

The Commission said it no longer plans to vote tomorrow on proposed revisions for a regulatory framework for Business Data Services (BDS) that would make services or providers subject to rules regardless of whether they’re considered incumbents or competitors. The FCC also pulled votes on:

  • Proposed rules for a second phase of funding for the Mobility Fund of Universal Service Reform (USF)
  • Roaming obligations for commercial carriers and the regulatory classification of VoLTE services
  • Increasing the amount of “video described programming” that must be made available to consumers with impaired vision

The move appears to be a swift response to a request from Republican leaders that the FCC focus on the ongoing incentive auction and shelve potentially contentious issues during the transition in the White House. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who serves as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chair of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, jointly submitted a letter (PDF) to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saying the auction of 600 MHz airwaves should be the Commission’s top priority for the next 10 weeks.

RELATED: Republicans urge FCC to focus on incentive auction

“The successful completion of the auction will provide needed spectrum to meet Americans’ wireless broadband needs and ensure that Americans continue to enjoy the local news and national programming broadcasters provide,” the congressmen wrote. “We strongly urge you to concentrate the Commission’s attention and resources only on matters that require action under the efforts to foster the success of the broadcast incentive auction.”

An FCC spokesperson confirmed the agenda was revised "in light of the congressional letters we received," but offered no further comment. Commissioner Tom Wheeler is widely expected to depart the FCC soon after Trump is inaugurated on January 20.

As the legislators noted in the letter, the FCC dropped some initiatives eight years ago when top Democrats made a similar request following the election of Barack Obama. “As Rep. Henry Waxman and Senator Jay Rockefeller noted during the 2008 Presidential transition, it would be counterproductive for the FCC to consider complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new Administration would have an interest in reviewing,” they wrote.

The incentive auction is currently in Stage 3 after a second stage generated only $21.5 billion in bids, falling far short of the $54.6 billion that would have ended the event. The auction is likely to drag into 2017, and a 39-month spectrum “repacking” process will follow as TV broadcasters move to new airwaves, freeing up spectrum for wireless use.