House Democrats are likely to champion a telecom agenda at odds with Republican policies in the next Congress, including reinstating Obama-era net neutrality rules.
Democrats also may try to shield media ownership regulations and Federal Communications Commission programs aimed at helping low-income consumers afford their phone bills.
“We plan to put the consumer first by pushing policies that protect net neutrality, promote public safety, and provide meaningful privacy and data security protections that are seriously lacking today,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the likely next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement before the election.
Democrats may advance legislation through the House to restore net neutrality rules that were repealed by the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai in December 2017. Passing a net neutrality bill through the House most likely would be a symbolic victory for Democrats because it would have little chance of clearing the GOP-controlled Senate or being signed by President Donald Trump, Blair Levin, a former Democratic FCC official, told Bloomberg Law in an interview.
Democrats also intend to aggressively oversee the FCC through “regular oversight hearings with all commissioners,” Pallone told Bloomberg Law.
The hearings may focus on the FCC’s easing of media ownership rules, including reinstating a discount that allows media companies to count just 50 percent of households reached for television stations that broadcast on certain channels, several telecom lobbyists and former government officials told Bloomberg Law. The FCC’s action paved the way for Sinclair Broadcast Group to move ahead with its bid to acquire Tribune Media Co.
Pai’s push to restrict phone resellers from participating in the FCC’s Lifeline program, which provides a low-income consumers a discount on their phone bills, also may attract scrutiny from a Democratic-controlled House, as could an FCC proceeding to ease educational programming rules on broadcasters.
“First of all, we want to see the FCC in front of us more, and then there’s a whole range of issues that obviously we’re going to be interested in discussing,” Rep. Michael Doyle (D-Pa.), who’s in line to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, told Bloomberg Law before the midterm elections.
A measure to expand broadband infrastructure would give Democrats their best chance for a bipartisan legislative win next year.
Democratic leaders hope to work with Trump and congressional Republicans on a broader infrastructure plan that is likely to include broadband provisions. Republicans and Democrats alike have backed the idea of expanding broadband access to rural and underserved areas.
Democrats and Republicans agree on some broadband infrastructure proposals, including “dig once,” which would require installing conduits that could house fiber optic cables during the construction of federally funded road projects, Gigi Sohn, a former Democratic FCC official, told Bloomberg Law.
Pallone introduced an infrastructure bill in 2017 that would authorize $40 billion to improve broadband infrastructure to expand high-speed internet access in the U.S. Democrats and Republicans could struggle to reach an agreement on new federal funding for broadband infrastructure, Levin said.
Rural broadband investment is also a priority of some Republican senators, including Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who’s likely to take over as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in the next Congress.
—With assistance from Mark Niquette (Bloomberg) and Alan Levin (Bloomberg)