Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Action item: US House, the FCC, & Lafayette

Here's another chance to show some good citizenship moxie. Write or call your Federal House member and urge them, not the FCC bureaucracy, to make federal telecomm policy. Louisiana even has an "in" on the subcommittee overseeing the FCC' s behavior: Charlie Melancon. And, of course, urge your representatives to vote against the phone companies' attempts to federalize cable franchising and for bills that would forbid states outlawing municipal broadband networks.

This week the news from Congress is all about every member's five minutes of squirming as they stand before the cameras and try and articulate a position on Bush's Iraq policy. But that thunder is all about a non-binding resolution that may (may) have symbolic value but certainly has no immediate practical effect.

But at the same time Congress members will speaking in nearly empty chambers actual work will be taking place in the back halls. One meeting that will be important for those of us in Louisiana and Lafayette will be a grilling of the FCC this Thursday by the House Commerce Committee. The list of national issues is long but locally we are particularly interested in the FCC's recent attempt to take it upon themselves to reduce local communities property rights in order to benefit the bottom lines of 3 or 4 of the world's largest phone corporations.

Readers will recall a similar Senate hearing recently for which LPF asked it readers to write and call David Vitter, who sits on that Commerce Committee and detail on this issue can be found in that post. In a nutshell: "At stake for you: millions of dollars in local revenues, access to truly local channels like AOC, protection against your neighborhood being "redlined" out of new technologies if it's not rich enough, and the principle of local control of locally-owned resources."

Lafayette's congressman shows little interest or aptitude for technology issues but luckily for South Louisiana Congressman Melancon of the neighboring third Congressional district does and he he's got himself a crucial vice chair position on the subcommittee oversees the FCC. When Commerce Committee Chair Dingell decides to go after the FCC (and all signs are that he will) Mr. Melancon will at the center of any ensuing battles. Here's what the National Journal has to say about the new chair:
Last year, during the protracted battle over Republican-backed telecommunications legislation, Dingell came out swinging against AT&T, BellSouth (now part of AT&T) and Verizon Communications, as they sought to eliminate local franchise restrictions and prevent regulation of their growing high-speed Internet businesses.
In fact, that legislation failed, as Congress refused to pass such a bill. For a while there was a concern that a lame-duck Congress would try and push it through and its corporate backers and some Congressmen hinted that they would try that. But in the end the 109th Congress adjourned, having decided that such a bill wasn't worth passing. The phone companies turned to the FCC and convinced that panel's Republican majority to try and install by pure regulation what Congress refused to pass a law to accomplish.

Congress critters, Dingell prominently among them, were offended by the FCC's presumption. This is from an interview with Dingell and was offered in response to a question on the FCC's attempt to institute a national video franchise:

What I'm saying is that the FCC has made several mistakes. First, they have not had a proper list of findings about public interests and the public convenience and necessity.

Second of all, they have disregarded the law in asserting powers, which the statute does not give them. And third of all, they have not addressed the broader questions, which need to be addressed, about seeing to it that consumers of these services are fairly treated and this is a bit of an arrogance on the part of the FCC.

So you can expect some oversight of the FCC on this issue. And Congressman Melancon will play a crucial role in that oversight.

Let him know what you think. Urge your friends, neighbors and cousins that live in his district to do the same. Tell him that local property ought to be controlled by local folks and that you expect him to stand up for that principal. Tell him that you like the Lautenberg-McCain bill that kept the states from standing in the way of local communities that offered a little competition to the incumbents. Most of all let him know that some of us down here care about this stuff--and that he is being watched on telecomm issues

Send Melancon an email message.
Phone: 202-225-4031
Fax: 202-226-3944

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