House Subcommittee Hearing to Address Global Internet Governance

FCC reform also at top of agenda

The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will kick off the new Congress with a joint hearing Feb. 5 on how U.S. policy can keep the global Internet free from international regulation.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the subcommittee, laid out his agenda this morning covering everything from wireless spectrum policy to reform of the Federal Communications Commission.

“I am very concerned about what happened in Dubai with the Internet,” said Walden, referring to last December when the U.S. began the fight to stop attempts by governments like Russia and China looking to move governance of the Internet to the United Nations. “We want to make sure the Internet is free from legacy regulation and from countries that have a different view of democracy and freedom on the Internet,” Walden added.

The hearing will be jointly held with the House foreign affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, chaired by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.)

Walden may be kicking off his agenda with the Internet, but reform of the Federal Communications Commission remains the former broadcaster’s pet issue. Even though he ran into Democratic roadblocks last Congress on two bills he introduced, Walden is not giving up.

“We’ll make another go of it,” Walden vowed. “I’m not sure why simple transparency, shot clocks [time limits on proceedings] and accountability in a government agency is a partisan issue. I just shake my head at that. Some dockets have lingered open for years, if not generations,” Walden said.

Speaking of partisan, the FCC's net neutrality rules have always split right down party lines. Critical that the FCC overstepped its authority on setting net neutrality rules, Walden threw down the gauntlet on any attempts by Dems to enshrine them as law if the court rules later this year in favor of Verizon’s challenge to them, as promised yesterday by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the subcommittee.

“I don’t think it will move out of committee,” Walden said. “Not on my watch.”

Walden also said his subcommittee will continue to keep a close eye on how the FCC proceeds with managing and operating the auction of wireless spectrum voluntarily relinquished by TV broadcasters. The FCC is working on the details now with the goal of conducting those auctions in 2014.

The subcommittee could also begin to kick over the rock on the nation’s communications laws, which were written before the Internet and before mobile devices became ubiquitous. Up first is the reauthorization of the Satellite Home Viewer Act, a law that permits satellite TV services to carry local TV stations.

Though SHVA, which expires in 2014, refers specifically to satellite TV services, the discussion over the bill could open all kinds of issues such as retransmission consent and copyright law. If Dish’s Charlie Ergen gets his way, broadcasters’ legal battle to kill the Hopper will likely become part of the debate.