Former FCC Commissioners Testify Before House Panel On Communications Act Rewrite
January 16, 2014 at 4:20 AM (PT)
Three former FCC Chairmen and one former Commissioner and Acting Chairman testified WEDNESDAY (1/15) before a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on the proposed rewrite of the Communications Act.
Former Chairman DICK WILEY told the panel that the existing act "has succeeded ... when a lighter regulatory touch has been applied to markets, such as mobile and information services," but that "where the government has been less effective is in maintaining highly restrictive regulations on traditional industries like wireline telephony and broadcasting. The end result has been to disadvantage these sectors even though they may be providing services that often are equivalent to those offered by their less regulated competitors."
WILEY suggested that "the objective of a statutory rewrite should not be to legislate premised on the current state of the marketplace or even on predictions of what it may look like in the future. Instead, Congress should consider a flexible and technologically neutral framework that will be capable of adapting to technical invention and innovation, whatever it may prove to be." He proposed that "industry silos" in the 1996 Act should be abolished and "functionally equivalent services should be treated in the same manner, regardless of who provides them or how they are delivered to consumers."
Former Chairman REED HUNDT rejected the idea that the Act needs a rewrite at all, telling the panel, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it -- and the FCC is not only not broken, but also it is a model example of agency government ... Congress has repeatedly passed bipartisan legislation that has created an appropriately centralized and directed authority for the FCC to take the actions necessary to give Americans the chance to create the best ICT sector on the planet. Americans have seized that opportunity, and produced wondrous successes."
Former Chairman MICHAEL POWELL noted the "dramatic marketplace developments" since the Act was last rewritten and warned that a rewrite now must "first do no harm," echoing HUNDT's position by offering that "it is important here not to try and fix what is not broken." He asked the panel to "keep it simple ... A new effort should be a fresh start with the express goal of having a dramatically simpler framework."
He proposed that a new Act should reduce unnecessary rules to encourage innovation, should be organized better (agreeing with WILEY that "silos" for individual media should be eliminated), should recognize changes in markets and allow for the Commission to be flexible, and should focus on accelerating timeframes for action.
Former Commissioner MICHAEL J. COPPS, like HUNDT, disagreed that the law needs to be rewritten, blaming problems on "powerful industry efforts to undermine (the law) and ... Commission decisions that too often aid and abet that effort ... our present statute
has been interpreted and implemented in ways not originally intended and that many of its
constituent parts are still relevant, workable and consumer-friendly. There is a statute to enforce, and putting that job on hold while we consider changing it is not a good option." COPPS also decried the loss of minority broadcast ownership.