The FCC has work to do, and Ted Cruz isn’t helping

October 18, 2013

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is pursued by reporters upon his returns to Capitol Hill on Oct. 11  after a meeting between President Obama and Senate Republicans at the White House. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Fresh off his defeat over the government shutdown, Ted Cruz has blocked President Obama's nominee for the chair of the Federal Communications Commission. At any other time, the delay might be written off as another cost of doing business in today's gridlocked Congress. But having just emerged from a 16-day closure, Washington's got a bunch of catching up to do — and the FCC is no exception, meaning that the hold on Tom Wheeler, Obama's nominee, is likely to add even more to the backlog.

What's at stake is a major government auction to improve the nation's mobile broadband and other wireless networks. It's the first of its kind, making the FCC a battleground for telecom companies, the TV industry and consumer advocates who are all trying to influence the rules behind the auction. All these groups are stuck in a holding pattern until the FCC makes a final decision on how the process will work. But the agency won't likely do that until Congress approves Obama's pick, industry analysts told The Post's Cecilia Kang.

Cruz says he'll continue to block a confirmation vote until Wheeler vows not to apply more stringent disclosure rules on political television ads.

Others add that Cruz could wind up stalling other initiatives, like a bid to install high-speed Internet in schools and libraries.

"The longer the chairman's confirmation is delayed, the longer that process will take," says Sarah Morris, senior policy counsel at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute. "It's really just adding to the standstill that was created by the shutdown."

The next deadline for the so-called "E-Rate" program has been pushed back three weeks as a result of the shutdown.

Even if you agree — as the senator argues — that funding disclosure is a matter of free speech, it's hard to see how this helps anyone except Ted Cruz.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Brian Fung · October 18, 2013