At the end of 2013, Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Greg Walden (R-OR) announced their intention to reform the Communications Act of 1996, saying the law is in need of an update due to changing technology. Yesterday (1/15), the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, which is chaired by Walden, held its first hearing focused on the matter. Three former FCC Chairmen and one former Commissioner testified at the hearing, including Former Chairman Dick Wiley, Former Chairman Reed Hundt, Former Chairman Michael Powell, and Former Commissioner Michael Copps.
Former Chairman Wiley testified that history shows that innovation happens most when a light regulatory touch is applied. With regard to the update, he said, "I would suggest 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."
Former Chairman Powell similarly suggested that any update to the law needs to provide a legal and regulatory framework that mirrors the "simplicity" that has allowed innovation to flourish over the past 20 years. "This market requires a greater degree of business flexibility, fewer prescriptive rules, and an assurance that any government involvement is applied on a technology-neutral basis and creates a better investment climate," said Powell. "Rather than dialog and debate around well-worn constructs like regulation and deregulation, free markets versus industrial policy, and competition and monopoly, we should talk more about simplicity – guiding our companies and our regulatory policies by the concept."
However, Hundt rejected the idea that the Act needs a rewrite, 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." Copps sided with Hundt, 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 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."
Video of the testimony can be seen on the Energy & Commerce Committee website here.