WASHINGTON April 14, 2011 – Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, voiced his opposition Wednesday to network neutrality, supported increased oversight of the Federal Communications Commission and addressed how spectrum issues need to be explored with great caution at the American Cable Association summit.
“I do not believe the FCC has the authority to regulate the Internet,” said Walden in support of the House’s passage of House Joint Resolution 37 , which would nullify the FCC’s recently-passed Open Internet Order.
Walden said that he does not believe the measure will pass the Senate, but that the FCC needed to know that House was displeased with its actions. President Obama has already indicated that if the measure came before him he would veto it. Walden believes that, if vetoed, there would not be enough votes in the Senate to override.
“The FCC is an independent agency, but it is Congress’ job to provide adequate oversight and we had to let them know that we were not happy with their actions,” he went on to say. “We need the FCC to create policy after they see a problem occurring – not before it happens so they can then be challenged and lose in court.”
The House had included a budget rider preventing the FCC from funding the enforcement of the Open Internet Order but the rider did not make it into the final budget resolution achieved last week.
Walden also provided a brief overview of the his subcommittee’s hearing Tuesday on spectrum use in public safety. He told the group that the issues surrounding spectrum reallocation are complex and while many people would like the issue to be solved quickly, he would not allow the process to be rushed through Congress.
“We will only go through this process once and we have to get it right. It will take time for us to fully understand the issues,” Walden said. “We won’t be rushed on this.”
He said that while spectrum auctions may be a possible solution, the way the auctions are designed will make the difference whether the auctions are successful or not. While the FCC has recommended Congress pass legislation allowing spectrum auctions, Walden said he doubted the bill would pass this year.
When pressed by the cable operators about why the Congress has not explored the issues surrounding retransmission agreements Walden noted the need for legislation that will be effective as well as enduring.
“We want to have competitive markets,” he said, “but we also do not want to install rules which will quickly become irrelevant.”
Retransmission agreements occur between the cable companies and the networks to determine the price the cable company must pay to be able to carry the network’s programming. Increasingly the negotiation of these agreements has become long and hostile processes. In the fall, Fox broadcasting cut off access to its programming to Cablevision while the two companies negotiated a new contract.
When asked by an audience member if the FCC should intervene during these intractable negotiations Walden commented that currently the FCC does not have the authority to force a contract to be signed by either party.