As the new Majority Party in the House of Representatives, Democrats will take the gavels as Chairmen of House Committees and Subcommittees as the 116th Congress convenes in January. The House Energy and Commerce Committee and its Subcommittee on Communications and Technology have jurisdiction over the FCC and telecommunications issues, including broadband. The current Ranking Member, Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), is expected to become the Committee Chair. Based on recent statements, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to take a more active role in FCC oversight under the new Chairman.
The current Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), was elected to the Senate, replacing retiring Senator Bob Corker (R-TN). As Chairman, Representative Blackburn was a strong supporter of recent FCC decisions, including the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (Vol. XV, Issue 24), the recent 3.5 GHz Order (Vol. XV, Issue 44), and other policies promoting 5G. By contrast, the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee, Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) who ran unopposed in the Pennsylvania’s new District 18 (Pittsburgh and surrounding areas), introduced a Joint Resolution under the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order. In order to bring the resolution to the House floor for a vote, the discharge petition must have 218 signatures; the discharge petition for this item currently has 177. If the discharge petition does not receive the required signatures by the end of the year, then this item will fail. In the next Congress, Democrats may attempt to reverse the policies in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order through regular order since the CRA will no longer be an option.
While we expect the House to increase oversight over the FCC, the Senate will continue to support the Republican-led FCC’s agenda. The Republicans have maintained their majority in the Senate, the size of which depends on a few close races still being counted. One item of unfinished business is a Senate vote on the President’s nominee for the second Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. Reportedly, the Senators from Alaska have placed a “hold” on his nomination in order to secure FCC action on telemedicine issues impacting their state. A Senate vote on the nomination is expected before year-end.