Former FCC chiefs to testify on telecom law rewrite

Congress will hear from three former Federal Communications Commission chairmen next week as it attempts to update the law regulating the communications industry.

Former FCC Chairmen Richard Wiley, Reed Hundt and Michael Powell will testify at a hearing next week being held by the House Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology, according to a committee aide. 

The committee announced last year that it is undertaking the multi-year effort to rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996, itself a rewrite of the Communications Act of 1934.

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Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the subcommittee on Communications and Technology, cited a need to update the law to address rapidly evolving technologies.

Earlier this week, the committee released a white paper outlining flaws in the communications law — including the “siloed” nature of the FCC and its regulations — and asking for input on how to best update it.

The committee will hold a hearing on Jan. 15 to hear perspectives from the former chairmen on updating the law.

“I expect the subcommittee will discuss a broad array of issues with the former chairmen as we chart our course to update the law to better fit today's communications marketplace, foster innovation and opportunity, and promote consumer choice, job creation, and economic growth,” Walden said in a statement.

Powell — who became FCC chairman under then-President George W. Bush in 2001 and served until 2005 — is currently the CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

In December, Powell applauded the committee’s decision to update the foundational communications law.

“We have long maintained that many of the laws governing the communications marketplace are frayed,” he said in a statement

“Since their creation, the landscape has been transformed – new, unimagined products and services as well as dramatic changes in market structure. We are prepared and pleased to work with Chairmen Upton and Walden and the entire Committee to carefully re-examine the aging Communications Act.”

Hundt is currently the CEO of environmental nonprofit the Coalition for Green Capital. After being nominated by former President Clinton, Hundt served as FCC chairman from 1993 to 1997.

In a paper published last year, Hundt urged the agency to take a “light-handed” approach to regulating the communications industry.

The FCC should use its “classic regulatory role as a backstop, and it should articulate clearly its competition policy framework so that firms can understand the rules and compete to provide service to customers in a procompetitive manner,” the paper said.

Wiley, who served as Chairman from 1974 to 1977, founded the D.C. law firm Wiley Rein in 1983. Currently he is the head of the firm’s Communications Practice, where he represents firms including Verizon, AT&T, CBS and Gannett.

In a blog post last month, Wiley opined on the top issues facing the FCC and new Chairman Tom Wheeler. 

“Consistent with our increasingly fast-paced digital economy, the new FCC must make decisions, set deadlines, remove unnecessary regulations, sunset new rules and, overall, operate more rapidly and efficiently,” he wrote.

Wednesday’s hearing will take place at 10 a.m. in Rayburn 2123 and will be webcast on the committee’s website