Walden: FCC Reform Markup Planned for Feb. 7

Says he was dismayed by FCC chair criticism of spectrum incentive auction bill
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A bill that would put a shot clock on FCC
decisions and institute numerous other process reforms is scheduled for a Feb.
7 markup in the Energy & Commerce Committee, according to Communications
and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who is looking for
FCC reform, in part, because he said Wednesday he is beginning to feel the
commission is becoming more of a "tool of the White House" than an
independent agency.

Also
look for his subcommittee to hold hearings on LightSquared, both the issue of GPS receiver standards and
how the broadband wireless network's plans got held up by government. Further
down the line, there are plans for Communications subcommittee hearings on
video--including Cable Act issues--audio and data, according to Walden, who
talked to reporters Wednesday to outline the subcommittee's priorities.

Walden
added the caveat that the Feb. 7 date could change, but says he wants to move a
bill forward "to bring more openness to the process at the FCC, he said,
to "give the public a portal into the Portals (the FCC's headquarters).

Walden
gave as an example of his frustration with the FCC the lag time between the
vote on Universal Service and the production of a final document.
"Oftentimes the FCC commissioner's process has been one of voting on
e-mails and press releases and not documents that are available to the
public," he said. Walden wants to put shot clocks on decisions and prevent
the FCC from using its public interest leverage on mergers "to achieve effects
in the marketplace that you don't statutorily have the right to do under your
rules. Any other context you would call that extortion. "He called that an
overreach. "If you want to change the marketplace do it in a rulemaking," he
added.

Walden,
who is a conferee on the payroll tax extension bill package that includes
spectrum incentive auction legislation, said he hopes the auctions will stay in
that bill, and said he expects it to given the multi-billion
"pay-for" it represents. The auctions are estimated to raise about
$16 billion for the treasury after compensating broadcasters and paying for an
emergency communications network. But he remains committed to retaining
provisions that prevent the FCC from putting conditions on the bidders for that
reclaimed broadcast spectrum, which Democrats remain strongly opposed to. He
also said the auctions would also generate between 300,000 and 700,000 jobs.

Walden
said it was not a certainty that auctions would stay in the bill, but said he
had "a very strong hand" and added that it was important that it do
so. He said that given the need to pay for the bill, he thought it would
"cause a problem" if that now $16.7 billion -- because it is a new
calendar year that has been some adjustment to the figure -- dropped out.

Walden
pointed out that the Democrats had four years to act on a spectrum bill when
they were in the majority, and four years to build out a public safety net. He
also said that in the prior Congress there was bipartisan agreement on
auctioning the D Block until the President changed his position on the D Block,
after which Rpe. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), former chair of the full Energy &
Commerce Committee changed his position. He pointed out that the only one who
has been pure on the D block is FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who still
believes in auctioning which is in the current law and "maybe the FCC can
move ahead with that auction since they have the authority."

At
the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Genachowski two weeks
ago was critical of the House version of the spectrum auction bill because of
its limits on the conditions the FCC could impose. Walden said he was
"caught off guard" by the criticism since he says his staff had been
working with the chairman's staff on some of the language "to make sure
that it did work effectively."

Walden
said he interpreted the chairman's remarks as saying that the bill wouldn't
work. "The Congressional Budget Office [which scored the auctions as
raising those billions] obviously has a different view of that because they
wouldn't have given us a score if they didn't think the auction would
work."

Walden
said he was beginning to lose a "little faith" in the commission,
"whose power derives from the U.S. Congress," because he said it was
beginning to feel like the FCC was "just another tool of the White
House."

Walden
defended the spectrum bills prohibition on the FCC placing conditions on bidder
eligibility. He said the FCC would still have the authority to take action
after an auction, applying a spectrum screen, even nullifying the auction
altogether if it determined there was too much concentration. He said, instead,
that the FCC wanted to pick winners and losers and that "three people down
at the Portals shouldn't be able to tell a company you don't have the right to
bid. He said the only reason he could think for the FCC chairman to be upset by
that provision disallowing bidding conditions, is that he wants to exclude one
or the other of the two major carriers from bidding. "I don't think that
is good public policy," he said. "They seem to want the authority to
say: "you don't get to play."

The FCC had no comment, but Wireless Bureau Chief Rick Kaplan has said that the FCC's goal is "that every carrier - big, medium, or small - that needs additional spectrum should have a meaningful chance to bid for it," and that the FCC needs the flexibility to structure the auction to attract enough bidders to get the big bucks Congress is looking for while keeping the market compettitive for companies big and small.

Walden
also said he did not understand the "collision" between LightSquared and the GPS industry. " I don't
understand a process where someone buys spectrum put forth by the FCC to use
for a purpose, only to discover later on you can't use what you bought because
of interference issues with another user outside your band. I am trying to
figure out how the cart got so far ahead of the horse. "

He
said he wants to hold hearings on how the process failed and on receiver
standards.

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