New chairman of House committee sets different agenda

Republican Fred Upton aims to rein in FCC

Fred Upton, a Republican congressman from Michigan, will succeed Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) as chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which has important oversight over the broadcast and cable business.

Upton is regarded as a moderate Republican, but facing potential opposition from the right, he was anxious to highlight his conservative bona fides in recent weeks.

He’s signalled that to curb regulatory overreach, his committee will provide a greater check on the actions of the FCC.

One stark contrast to Waxman is on the issue of Net neutrality. Last fall, Waxman drew up a plan designed to win telco and tech community support on the long-debated issue, and the proposal became the framework for a Net neutrality compromise offered by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski last week. But Upton called it a “job killing” measure and said, “Our new majority will use rigorous oversight, hearings and legislation to fight the FCC’s overt power grab.”

They also differ in their approach to the proposed Comcast combination with NBC Universal. Upton, in a letter he earlier this year to the FCC along with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), called the transaction “pro-consumer and pro-competitive.”

On Tuesday, Waxman sent a letter to Genachowski expressing his hope that they would complete the review of the transaction “expeditiously,” ideally by the end of the year, but he also called for a series of significant conditions. Among them are requirements that Comcast not show favoritism in its own online video content via speedier deliver or better quality of service, or that it block or slow the video of competitors. He also called for steps to make sure that competitors have access to cable channels in which Comcast and NBC U have a financial interest and that competing channels not be isolated outside the “neighborhood” of like channels.

Comcast said in a statement, “We continue to work with the regulatory agencies on the issues identified by chairman Waxman.”

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