Policy

Pai to Renew Push for FCC Reauthorization Before House Panel

Draft bill would authorize $322 million annually through fiscal 2020

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai is expected to help rally support for the commission’s reauthorization. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai plans to renew his push for a two-year reauthorization of the agency at a House hearing Wednesday. He says the reauthorization is needed to expedite spectrum auctions and to roll out a new generation of broadband.

Key lawmakers say Pai’s appearance, along with other FCC members, at a House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing will help to set the stage for moving the draft reauthorization legislation that was marked up by the subcommittee on Oct. 11. The subcommittee approved it by voice vote.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn said Tuesday she expected Pai and other FCC members to help rally support for the reauthorization.

“We think that it is time to bring some legislative certainty,” the Tennessee Republican said. “We are very hopeful that we are going to get it out of Energy and Commerce soon, send it to the Senate, and hopeful that by year’s end they will put it in one of their packages and send it forward, send it to the president.”

Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden said Tuesday he wouldn’t set a target date for a full committee markup, but voiced optimism that it would be scheduled soon.

“It’s out of subcommittee, and we’ve got a few things to finish up before we bring it up at the full. But we plan to move forward on a pretty expeditious timeline. We’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m not going to give you deadlines,” the Oregon Republican said.

The draft bill would authorize $322 million annually through fiscal 2020 for the FCC.

Pai said at news conference Tuesday that he would continue pushing for legislative action, underscoring the need for a legislative tweak to clear the way for proceeds of future spectrum auctions to be held in a Treasury account and to earn interest.

Supporters say the legislation would lay the ground for spectrum auctions needed to roll out 5G broadband services by allowing bid proceeds to be held in a Treasury account and to be placed in investments tied to interest-bearing Treasury securities.

“This is a very important provision of the FCC reauthorization,” Pai said.

Proponents said the recent broadcast incentive auction was deemed a national priority, a designation that helped to persuade the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to set up an interest-bearing account for the funds. But they said there were doubts whether the Fed or Treasury would do so for smaller future auctions in the absence of explicit authority.

They said the measure would make clear that funds from spectrum bids could be placed in a Treasury — not in a bank or in the Federal Reserve — where they would earn interest.

Pai said in testimony to the subcommittee in July that recent regulatory requirements for the collateralization and capitalization of deposits have dissuaded private institutions from holding the upfront payments that spectrum bidders must make.

“We have not be able to find a private bank that is able to satisfy those regulatory requirements,” Pai said Tuesday. He voiced concern the agency would have “money in our hands potentially” without “anywhere to put” such funds and earn interest.

Pai has also pushed for lighter regulation of large parts of the industry he oversees. The latest action came when the FCC voted 3-2 on Tuesday to end a requirement that broadcast radio and television operators maintain local studios in markets where they are licensed, enabling them to centralize the production of news and other programs in big cities.

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