Walden Pushes Forward on FCC Reform

Markup of bill tentatively set for Feb. 7

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and a former broadcaster, isn’t giving up on his mission to reform the Federal Communications Commission.

In a press briefing Wednesday morning Walden seemed more determined than ever to pass legislation that would bring major changes to the independent agency that wields enormous sway over the $3 trillion communications business.

Walden set a tentative markup of the FCC Process Reform Act before the full House Energy and Commerce Committee on Feb. 7.

The bill, introduced last fall and voted out of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee in the fall along party lines, would require the FCC to vote on a rule only after the final language of the rule was made available to the public. It would require the FCC to conduct cost benefit analyses of potential rules, establish time limits for consideration of acquisitions and prevent the FCC from imposing conditions on merger approvals that were outside of its legal authority.

Democrats are likely to put up a fuss like they did in the fall. Walden admitted there is resistance even as he continues to work across the aisle. “The only area where we seem to have agreement is allowing the commissioners to meet in private. I’m OK with that, but that’s not the big reform, and it doesn’t open up the process,” Walden said. “We need more openness in the process and give the public a portal into The Portals [the name for where the FCC’s building sits].”

While the GOP controls the House, the Democratic-controlled Senate could make it tough for Walden to get his way on the FCC. “I hope they would be supportive,” Walden said. “The president himself has called for [agency] reforms and that would have applied to the FCC if it wasn’t an independent agency.”

Walden also defended his spectrum bill, called the Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum Act (JOBS Act), which will once again be part of the payroll tax extension package in the House. The JOBS Act was criticized earlier this month by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski because it has a provision that prevents the FCC from limiting what companies could participate in an auction of spectrum for wireless services.

Walden countered that Genachowski’s statements “caught him off guard.” Walden said, “We don’t limit the FCC’s authority. Once the auction plays out, the FCC has the authority to determine if someone is too big a player. The only reason I can think of for why the chairman is upset of the provision is because he wants to exclude one of the [big] carriers from participating in the auction."

How the JOBS Act will fare when it goes to conference with the Senate is the big question. Walden is hoping that the JOBS Act, estimated to bring in $16.7 billion, compared to a Senate version of the bill that would bring in only $6.5 billion, will make the difference.