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House Republicans vote to limit FCC authority

Republicans this week passed legislation that would restrict the FCC in imposing merger conditions as well as limiting other measures, but the bill isn't expected to get much further.

Congressional Republicans are taking aim once again at the Federal Communications Commission.

Earlier this week, House Republicans approved legislation that would put limits on conditions that the FCC could impose on future mergers and wireless spectrum license transfers. The legislation would also require the FCC to justify the costs and benefits of new rules it imposes as well as imposes a "shot clock" when making decisions. The legislation also requires the FCC to publish proposed rules before voting on them.

Senate Democrats oppose the legislation. And President Obama has threatened to veto it if it reaches his desk. And it doesn't look like Republicans are interested in compromising to gain Democratic support. As a result, most people in Washington, D.C., don't expect the legislation to get much further.

Republicans tried to impose similarly strict reforms in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which extended the payroll tax cut and authorized spectrum auctions for the FCC to conduct to raise revenue to pay for the tax cut. But the final bill did not include language restricting the FCC's authority.

In the original bill, Republicans wanted rules that would limit how the FCC conducts wireless spectrum auctions. Historically, the FCC has been able to write rules for auctions that limit certain participants to encourage competition. But Republicans have said that these restrictions have stymied the revenue potential of certain auctions.

Interestingly, the 700 MHz auction, which was the last major auction the FCC conducted and the one that Republicans cited when complaining about FCC restrictions, was developed by a Republican-led FCC. This auction imposed restrictions on certain blocks of the spectrum to ensure open access and to keep a sliver of spectrum available for public safety.