Walden Shies Away From Big Communications Act Overhaul


A long-discussed overhaul of the Communications Act may not materialize anytime soon, or at least not in the form of a far-ranging legislative package, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden suggested Feb. 14.

“I always resist this notion that it’s going to be one bill,” Walden (R-Ore.) said at a Media Institute event in Washington, D.C., when asked about the status of plans to update federal communications law. “It’s not my goal to produce 2,000-page bills. Some good things get shoved in them, I suppose, but they can be a real problem.”

Republicans and Democrats alike have pushed for major updates to the act, which underpins U.S. telecommunications policy and defines the powers of the Federal Communications Commission. It dates back to 1934 and has seen only a few big updates since—notably the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which added provisions specific to the internet and cable TV service, among others.

Walden said Congress could defer to the broadband industry unless it identifies a particular problem requiring a legislative fix. “The marketplace is changing so rapidly, and if the marketplace can handle it, then the marketplace should,” he said.

He also plans to defer to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who chairs the committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, on launching telecom policy initiatives.

Last summer’s court decision affirming the FCC’s net neutrality rules prompted a number of GOP lawmakers to revive the idea of overhauling the act based on the notion that Congress needed to more clearly define the FCC’s role in regulating the internet. Particularly vocal were Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), a high-ranking Energy and Commerce member who was then jockeying against Walden for the chairmanship. But no major bills came out of that initial burst of enthusiasm.

Walden, who formerly chaired the subcommittee now headed by Blackburn, and Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), a former full committee chairman, led a push to overhaul the act back in 2013. But that effort didn’t get anywhere. In the waning days of the 113th Congress, it dwindled to adding a few telecom provisions to a bill extending a law that lets satellite TV providers import distant broadcast signals.