House Democrats want to know if the FCC rigged a legal fight over 5G

Leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission today demanding information concerning possible coordination between FCC officials and carriers in an ongoing legal fight.

The legal fight began last September, when the FCC issued an order to clear local regulatory barriers to nationwide 5G deployment. Democrats in the minority opposed the order, and dozens of cities and counties challenged the FCC’s move in the Ninth Circuit, which is dominated by Clinton and Obama appointees. But a wave of other challenges from carriers including AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint also gave the appeal a chance to be heard in other, potentially more favorable circuits. Both the FCC and the carriers supported the alternative circuits, only to be denied in a surprise ruling earlier this month.

Now, Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA) are concerned that the FCC may have pressured carriers to challenge the order in different court jurisdictions, hoping to put the case before friendlier, perhaps more conservative judges.

“If true, it would be inappropriate for the FCC to leverage its power as a regulator to influence regulated companies to further its agenda in seeking a more friendly court,” the lawmakers wrote.

The members requested more information from Chairman Pai and the FCC, asking for all communications, if any, the agency had with carriers related to this legal challenge. The lawmakers want to know whether any official, from a commissioner to a low-level employee, urged carriers to pursue legal action.

The FCC has three weeks to answer these questions. It is unclear how the ongoing federal shutdown will affect the commission’s ability to respond, although it has hindered similar briefings in the past.

Committee Democrats first opposed the order, arguing the legal fight between local governments and federal agencies would ultimately delay 5G deployment. “The [order] turns its back on the unique characteristics that are so essential to our communities and often give us a ‘sense of place’ — their appearance, history, and environmental qualities,” lawmakers wrote in September, “The [order] undermines the ability of cities and municipalities to exercise control over the most fundamental aspects of a locality.”

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