GOP chairman vows to protect broadcasters in FCC auction


"To ensure that broadcasters who wish to remain broadcasters can do so. To ensure that the FCC makes all reasonable efforts to maintain coverage areas. To ensure the FCC coordinates with Mexico and Canada to mitigate interference for border state broadcasters. To ensure that the FCC raises enough money to compensate stations that return spectrum, to reimburse those that relocate, and to help pay for the public safety network. And to ensure that — after putting broadcasters through all this — the FCC does not just turn around and give away spectrum," Walden added.

Last year, Congress authorized the FCC to encourage TV stations to give up airwave rights, called spectrum, for auction to cellphone carriers, which are struggling to keep pace with the booming demand for mobile data.

Walden, a former radio station owner, said he doesn't see the auction as a fight between the broadcasting and wireless industries.

"In fact, I think you have many reasons to work together to make this auction successful, as can be seen in your recent collaboration regarding potential band plans," Walden said. "An efficient auction that compensates as many broadcasters as choose to sell, that provides a stable environment for broadcasters that choose not to, and that maximizes auction participation and revenue is in everyone’s interests."

Walden also said he plans to renew his push for FCC process reform legislation. The House passed his bill last year, but the Senate declined to take it up.

The legislation would require the FCC to demonstrate the necessity of new regulations, restrict the types of conditions the agency could impose on corporate mergers and require the agency to set binding timelines for its proceedings.

"You need to know that I – and a majority of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and indeed a majority of the House – remain deeply committed to the cause of improving transparency and accountability at the FCC," Walden said. "Too often the public has had to turn to the courts to prove procedural wrongs at the Commission, wasting time and taxpayer resources and leaving the impression with some that the Commission considers itself above due process, which I’m sure is not what they intend."

Democrats worry that Walden's bill would hamstring the FCC's ability to adopt new rules and protect consumers.

One area of agreement between many Democrats and Republicans is that Congress should change the FCC's sunshine rules to allow commissioners to talk to each other outside of public meetings. But Walden said the FCC needs more sweeping reform.

"Allowing commissioners to meet in private and doing nothing else does not sound like process reform and transparency improvement to me," he said.

Walden said he plans to consider broad updates to video regulations as part of an effort to reauthorize a satellite television law. 

He said he is not yet convinced that Congress need to reform the rules governing cable payments to broadcasters, but he said lawmakers "must begin a discussion on other issues in light of competition and the rise of Internet video."

"The central questions we should be asking are, first, can we better ensure television viewers have access to the broadcast programming they want while respecting the rights of stations that transmit it over the air, the networks that create it, and the cable, satellite and broadband companies that deliver it? And second, does doing so require more or less government intervention?" Walden asked.