Rep. Walden: FCC feels like 'tool of the White House'

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He expects the full Energy and Commerce Committee to mark up the FCC overhaul bills on Feb. 7. 

Walden said the legislation would improve transparency and openness at the FCC, but Democrats argue the measures are really about hamstringing the agency's power to adopt new regulations and oversee corporate mergers.

When asked whether he thinks the legislation has any chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, Walden said, "I would hope that Senate would be supportive."

Walden also pushed back against FCC Chairman Julius Genachowki's recent criticism of his spectrum bill. The legislation would authorize the FCC to auction airwaves that currently belong to television broadcasters, splitting some of the revenue with the stations that choose to participate.

The spectrum is potentially worth billions of dollars to wireless carriers, which are struggling to meet the growing data demands of smartphones and tablet computers.

But in a speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Genachowski said that while he is supportive of the spectrum auctions, Walden's bill would micromanage the FCC and could result in the largest wireless carriers buying up all of the airwave licenses.

"I was a little dismayed by his criticism," Walden said, adding that his staff had been working closely with the FCC to craft the legislation.

Walden said his bill would only prevent the FCC from excluding particular companies from participating in the auctions of airwave licenses. He said the FCC could always revoke some of the licenses if one company buys up too many of them in the auctions.

"The FCC wants to pick winners and losers, it seems to me," Walden said. "All I can figure is that they're going to exclude one or both of the major carriers."

FCC officials have said they have no intention of excluding the two major carriers, AT&T and Verizon, from the auctions, but they argue the commission should be able to impose conditions to maintain competition in the wireless market. 

Walden expressed frustration that Democrats have not given Republicans more credit for agreeing to allocate the D block of spectrum for a nationwide public safety network as part of the bill.

"We've spent a year trying to negotiate with Mr. Waxman," Walden said, referring to the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman (Calif.). 

Walden noted the House has already approved the spectrum bill as part of the payroll tax cut extension last month and said he expects a conference committee will report the measure back to both chambers.