GOP Forces Cancellation of Most of FCC’s Thursday Agenda

Thune chairs the Senate Commerce Committee. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday abruptly canceled votes on a slate of items previously scheduled for Thursday’s open meeting, leaving the fate of bulk-data price caps and other commission priorities up in the air.

An FCC spokesman confirmed the schedule change was driven by Tuesday’s full-court press from Republicans in Congress urging the FCC to avoid controversial decisions in the wake of last week’s surprise election result.

“In light of the congressional letters we received, we have revised the meeting agenda,” the spokesman told Morning Consult in an email.

On Tuesday, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, sent a letter warning all commissioners against taking on “complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial items.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, sent a similar letter cautioning the commissioners to take action only on “matters that require action under the law.”

The FCC had intended to vote on price caps for bulk data services that use older, copper-based technology. Those connections are used to power financial transactions and connect cell phone towers.

The sudden cancellation of that vote means the item returns to circulation, and it’s unclear when the commission will vote on it.

Other cancelled items include a vote on a new phase of the Mobility Fund — a program designed to increase the availability of mobile broadband networks — and a proposed rule focused on the roaming obligations of commercial mobile service providers.

Just one enforcement item — related to a Freedom of Information Act request sent to the Wireline Competition Bureau — remains on Thursday’s agenda.

Tech enthusiast Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) blasted his Republican colleagues for pressuring the FCC to cancel the scheduled votes, saying the absence of commission action on bulk data prices and other items will hurt consumers. “Republican lawmakers should stop their obstruction and support commission action on those pro-consumer, pro-accessibility measures without delay,” Markey said in a statement.

But Thune said he never asked the commission to cancel all scheduled votes. He was only referring to the most controversial ones. In a brief interview with Morning Consult Wednesday afternoon, he said the FCC “seemingly” overreacted to his letter and the letter from his House colleagues.

“I guess they took what we said very seriously,” Thune said.

Update 4:56: This story has been updated to add reaction from Markey and Thune.