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FCC Nominee Michael P. O’Rielly Says He Favors ‘Light Hand’ of Regulation

Michael P. O’Rielly, a Republican Capitol Hill staffer nominated to fill a vacancy on the FCC, told the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday that agency regulations “need to be flexible” and to have “as light hand as possible.”

There are few doubts that O’Rielly will be confirmed. Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) predicted as much, and it is expected that his nomination will be paired with that of Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, to make both politically palatable to the full Senate.

But Rockefeller took issue with O’Rielly’s approach to regulation, calling O’Rielly’s “light hand” remarks “code words” that ignore the role of regulation in reining in the excesses of unchecked technology. (Curiously, O’Rielly’s opening remarks ended with the phrase “Stay strong for freedom.”) After O’Rielly talked of the perils of writing regulations for fast-changing technology, Rockefeller called on Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the committee, to talk of the role that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 had in spurring growth and private sector investment.

O’Rielly, who has worked for Congress for 20 years, is currently an adviser to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the Republican minority whip. He previously was a staffer for Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) and for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

O’Rielly signaled a willingness to look at revising media ownership rules, an effort that has been sidelined as the agency looks at the impact any changes would have on minorities and women.

Asked about what he would do when it came to indecency complaints, he said he would seek to “enforce the statute,” but he was not specific as to how he would craft a policy that could survive a constitutional challenge from broadcasters. Before he left the FCC, chairman Julius Genachowski proposed penalizing only “egregious” indecency cases, which has prompted an outcry from parental and family groups. The FCC also cleared out 70% of its backlog of 1.4 million complaints, but O’Rielly said that he wanted to “look at the record” to see what the reasons were for dismissing them.

Like those of other nominees who’ve come before the committee for confirmation, most of O’Rielly’s answers were general or even vague, which drew some light chiding from Rockefeller.

“We do expect to hear what it is you want to do, as opposed to what it is that will get you through the hearing and get confirmed, which you are going to get,” Rockefeller said.

If confirmed, O’Rielly would fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Robert McDowell, another Republican on the commission.

Also facing a confirmation hearing on Wednesday was Terrell McSweeny, a Democrat nominated to the Federal Trade Commission.

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