Sen Rockefeller Will Be Active Overseer In New Role

Sen Rockefeller Will Be Active Overseer In New Role, November 17, 2008

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- With Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.V., all but assured the helm of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, big telephone and Internet companies can expect stepped-up oversight on a host of consumer-related issues, from phone and Internet prices to privacy. Industry insiders expect Rockefeller to be more active in telecom than his predecessor, the mild-mannered Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who is vacating the Commerce post to chair the powerful Appropriations Committee. Rockefeller is next in line on the Commerce Committee. “I don’t think we’ll have a hands-off chairman,” when it comes to telecom, said one industry insider of Rockefeller. Rockefeller will be forced to vacate his current role as chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee to head the Commerce Committee. In his new role, Rockefeller’s prior focus on security issues likely will translate to the domestic front – such as cyber- and transportation security. Rockefeller also is said to be passionate about bringing high-speed Internet access to Americans who don’t have it. In the 1990’s, he co-authored the law subsidizing Internet access at schools and libraries. Internet buildout and other basic infrastructure development will be a general guiding principle for Rockefeller in creating jobs, supporters said. He has known an advocate of using monetary incentives to lure businesses into poorer areas. For example, he proposed legislation giving tax credits to companies that offer high-speed Internet in hard-to-serve regions. As chairman of the Commerce Committee, Rockefeller likely will push phone, cable, and Internet companies to improve their privacy policies and keep subscriber rates down, as he has in the past. But industry sources say Rockefeller isn’t always their enemy. Rockefeller was one of the lead negotiators on a compromise bill to authorize the president’s electronic surveillance powers, which directly impacted big phone companies like Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and AT&T Inc. (T). Those companies faced dozens of lawsuits for agreeing to government requests to access their customers’ phones and emails, but the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act effectively granted them immunity.