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.
House Commerce Committee Aligned on Telecom, Mapping and Supply Chain Security, Says Ranking Member
March 18, 2021 – House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, said Wednesday that the committee was among the most bipartisan on issues including telecom.
Rodgers, who was speaking at the Internet Innovation Alliance with co-chair Bruce Mehlman, said that her Republican colleagues have put forth 28 solutions that would remove regulatory barriers and streamline broadband processes yet demonstrate funding is being spent wisely. She called on the government to ensure cost-effective ways to spend federal dollars.
She said the committee’s priority must be on accurate broadband mapping. That requires funding for more granular data. She also argued for national security against China, including on solar and wind energy products.
Rodgers also said she was excited about low-earth orbit satellites and the potential future they bring in connecting parts of the country with internet that have been “economically unfeasible in the past.”
Asked of her thoughts on virtual learning from home, especially how her 14-year old son with down syndrome is faring, Rodgers said she was completely in favor of reopening schools safely because not all parents have the means to provide optimal learning spaces at home.
Calling herself a working mother who could afford to provide an assistant to help her son through his school day, Rodgers said it was not the best way to learn when compared to in-person schooling.
This came after she said the country has the best networks and “some of the fastest speeds at the lowest prices in the world for internet service.”
Former FCC Commissioners Reflect on Changes Since 1996 Telecommunications Act
February 9, 2021 – As 2021 marks the 25-yearanniversary of the Telecommunications Act, former Federal Communications Commissioners Mike O’Rielly and Harold Furchtgott-Roth reminisced Monday on their time in Congress as staff members when the law was passed. The Hudson Institute hosted the conversation.
The Telecommunications Act was the first major update to telecommunications law since 1934, and the two former commissioners reflected onhow much the internet has shifted the focus of technology legislation.
O’Rielly said the “heart of the legislation” was looking at local and long-distance telephone company markets and opening them to more competition, but “no one knew at the time that the internet would go in a different direction,” he said.
“No one really figured out at the time what was going to happen as broadband and online technology would take over from circuit-switch technologies,” agreed Furchtgott-Roth.
“These markets that we thought were so important back in 1996, long-distance services, they don’t exist anymore,” he said. “Technology has changed and provided a different and a superior form of competition than the [Act] could have ever imagined,” he said.
Four of the biggest tech companies today—Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tesla—didn’t even exist 25 years ago, Furchtgott-Roth said, using them as examples of how much technology and the market has changed. “All of which have a very active role directly or indirectly in the communication space,” he said.
The two also expressed surprise at how prominent some of the law’s provisions have become, and how rarely the FCC uses other provisions.
O’Rielly said that even though the preamble to the law was written as a description and had no legal merit, that language “has been abused” by courts and by the FCC even though, in his view, the preamble is “something that has no statutory weight.”
Section 230 a new focus for concern
In recent months Section 230 of the Act, which grants immunity to online platforms for content provided by their users, has become a major conversation for Congress and in public discourse, due to controversial topics like the election, COVID-19, and the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, which led to Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter and Facebook, and the shutting down of Parler, a conservative-led competitor to Twitter.
“Everyone agrees that Section 230 is worthy of review or some type of reform, but they come from different perspectives,” O’Rielly said. Republicans and conservatives are worried about censorship on the online platforms, while Democrats on the other side are worried about the spread of misinformation without any correction or policing, he said. “Those two things make it really hard to find a middle ground, even if everyone agrees on the overall premise of some type of reform,” he said.
Furchtgott-Roth mentioned two parts of the Act that he thought would have been used more often. First, the forbearance clause from Section 10, which gives the FCC the option to not enforce parts of the Act if certain conditions are met by entities. Second, regulatory review from section 11, which allows the FCC to review its own rules.
On being questioned about reforming the Telecommunications Act, O’Rielly said that Congress needs to be forward thinking, not constantly fixing previous legislation, and that they need to be specific in their statutes for what they want and do not want federal agencies to do.
The anniversary also received praise from members of Congress and industry groups on Monday. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass and co-author of the Act, said Congress must revisit the law to bring up-to-speed demands for better broadband.
Meanwhile, FirstLight Fiber CEO Kurt Van Wagenen and Incompas CEO Chip Pickering suggested the new-look White House and Federal Communications Commission make broadband deployment a top agenda item to usher in connectivity in underserved areas.
Emphasis on Combating COVID-19 and Rebuilding Infrastructure at First Energy and Commerce Meeting
January 28, 2021—During the first organizational meeting of the House Commerce Committee of the 117th Congress, Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey welcomed the newest members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bulk of the Committee’s first meeting was dedicated to discussing best practices to reduce healthcare and prescription drug costs, rebuild and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, and combat climate change.
Members further discussed rebuilding and restoring the essential functions of key agencies. Strengthening the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency were deemed essential. Members considered the waning of the two agencies to be at “the very heart” of creating some of the nation’s most pressing current legislative and policy issues.
Members also approved governing procedures and announce subcommittee chairs, ranking members, and other subcommittee assignments.
Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is the new ranking member, and the first woman in that role for the committee.
Pallone further announced Democratic members joining the Committee, including Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, known for her interest in climate change and infrastructure. Rep. Angie Craig, of Minnesota, was touted for work on the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Kim Schrier of Washington was recognized for her work as a pediatrician.
Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts has an interested in the opioid pandemic and the environment. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas is focused on first responders and firefighting foams.
Pallone addressed members of the committee in the 117th Congress
Pallone thanked members and reiterated the need to enact policies to combat COVID-19 through vaccine distribution. He criticized former President Donald Trump for lacking effective implementation strategies to vaccinate more Americans sooner.
He said policies were needed that “provide critical assistance to struggling families, rebuild our economy, and bring an end to the pandemic, so people can begin to safely return to regular practice of life.”
Pallone praised President Joe Biden’s executive orders on vaccine distribution, expanded access to testing, and utilization of the Defense Production Act, which allows continued access to medical supplies and personal protective equipment for testing and vaccination.
The committee also took time to celebrate its own 225th birthday, which occurred last month. It is the oldest committee in the House.
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