WASHINGTON, Dec 9 (Reuters) - A group of U.S. House of Representatives Democrats blasted the chief communications regulator for his opaque and unpredictable management on Tuesday in a report critics hope will spark reform of the Federal Communications Commission.
The House of Representatives’ investigation into the FCC and chairman Kevin Martin’s leadership came partly in response to complaints about the agency from the public and from communications industry professionals, according to lawmakers.
The report cites several instances where Martin “manipulated, withheld or suppressed data, reports and information,” particularly in the area of cable regulation, an issue Martin has pursued with vigor.
“The findings suggest that, in recent years, the FCC has operated in a dysfunctional manner and commission business has suffered as a result,” John Dingell of Michigan, the outgoing chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said.
Martin spokesman Robert Kenny said the agency is reviewing the report, but he noted the panel did not find any legal or procedural violations.
The FCC regulates the communications industry in areas ranging from the rates charged by and among telephone companies like AT&T (T.N) and Verizon Communications (VZ.N), to ownership rules for media companies like News Corp NWSa.N.
“It is my hope that the new FCC Chairman will find this report instructive and that it will prove useful in helping the Commission avoid making the same mistakes,” Dingell said.
President-elect Barack Obama is still mulling candidates for FCC chairman, but by early next year the Democrats will have the majority on the five-member Commission.
Three of the five commissioners at the agency, including Martin, are now Republican. The other two are Democrats.
Critics say Martin has abused his power by giving his four other voting commissioners little time to review complex items before the agency and by refusing to publish the text of rules sufficiently in advance of meetings.
In recent months, the four other commissioners have joined together to oppose some items backed by Martin, including intercarrier compensation rules which govern how phone companies pay each other to route traffic.
Dingell cited a dispute that erupted at the FCC last year, when some commissioners accused Martin of suppressing and manipulating information in pursuit of a measure that would have opened the door to tougher regulations on U.S. cable TV operators.
Martin has also triggered criticism from some lawmakers, consumer groups and other commissioners by pressing the commission for a fast vote on changes that loosened U.S. media ownership rules. (Editing by Tim Dobbyn)