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Dingell says FCC overstepped authority on cable franchising

In a hearing between members of Congress and the FCC, the agency was told it overstepped its authority in attempting to control the franchising of cable television.

Rep. John Dingell, D-MI, chairman of the House Commerce Committee, chastised the commission as it gathered on Capitol Hill for what is promised to be greater oversight by a Congress now controlled by Democrats. Dingell had especially harsh criticism for the divided 3-2 FCC vote on Dec. 20. The vote required local governments to speed up the approval process for new cable competitors, cap the fees paid by new entrants, and ease requirements for competitors to build systems that reach every home.

"The commission must work entirely within the existing laws to achieve that goal [of increased competition]," he said. "That did not happen, and the commission chose to ignore the well-settled divisions of responsibility."

The FCC's opponents have vowed to appeal the decision that benefits large telecom companies seeking quick entry into the video market. The FCC's new rules amount to a "federalization" of the cable franchising process, they charged, contending the change will mean a loss of local oversight, fewer dollars for public and government access channels and the possibility of "cherry picking" by companies that choose to serve only the richest neighborhoods.

The franchising issue was just one of the issues. Members of Congress said the FCC has lacked adequate oversight in recent years.

Rep. Ed Markey, D-MA, chairman of the subcommittee on Telecommunications and Internet, warned the FCC commissioners they will be back before Congress on a regular basis. "We intend to have them appear as frequent guests this year," he said.

Dingell hinted that the panel might schedule an oversight hearing "every month to keep the business of the commission on track."