Lawmakers Ask FCC to Slow Down on Policymaking

Two prominent U.S. lawmakers have asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to back away from creating new policy and focus on the transition to digital television during the waning days of Republican control of the commission.

The two Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to Republican FCC Chairman Kevin Martin Friday, asking Martin to hold off on some controversial proposals on the FCC's Dec. 18 agenda and focus instead on making sure U.S. television viewers are ready for the transition from analog to digital TV (DTV) next February.

On Feb. 17, U.S. TV stations will be required to stop broadcasting analog signals, and instead move to digital broadcasts, and millions of U.S. residents receiving their TV signals over the air will have to purchase digital converters or new TVs. The lawmakers' letter -- from U.S. Representative Henry Waxman of California and U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, expresses concern that the U.S. will not be ready for the transition.

"At a time when serious questions are being raised about [DTV] transition readiness, it would be counterproductive for the FCC to consider unrelated items, especially complex and controversial items that the new Congress and new administration will have an interest in reviewing," the letter said.

Martin has proposed a full agenda for the Dec. 18 FCC meeting, including a controversial proposal he's pushed for that would auction off wireless spectrum, with part of it going toward a nationwide wireless broadband network that would be required to block access to pornography and other objectionable Web content. Martin's proposal for the so-called AWS-3 (advanced wireless services) auction has been opposed by T-Mobile, which has concerns about interference with nearby spectrum it owns, and by civil liberties groups, which say the content-blocking plan violates free speech rights.

The Dec. 18 meeting agenda also includes items on wireless 911 emergency dialing requirements and on cable TV channel carriage rules.

Asked what agenda items the lawmakers are concerned about, a spokeswoman for Waxman declined to name specific issues.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the content of the letter. "We just received the letter from Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Waxman," said spokesman Matt Nodine. "We are reviewing it and will reach out to the other offices."

The lawmakers' letter comes days after a report from the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee accused Martin of abusing power and breaking commission rules during his tenure.

Waxman is the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC and many other tech issues. Rockefeller is likely the next chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which deals with many of the same issues.

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