Lawmakers Begin Communications Act Overhaul

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, along with Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, have announced an effort to review and update the country's communication policy. This would include the current Communications Act, which lays out the role of the FCC and how spectrum and communications are managed. The two made the announcement via Google Hangout, and were joined by former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell.

“Today we are launching a multi-year effort to examine our nation’s communications laws and update them for the Internet era,” said Upton. “The United States has been the global leader in innovation and growth of the Internet, but unfortunately, our communications laws have failed to keep pace. Throughout the recent economic downturn and recovery, the communications and technology sectors have remained stalwarts of our national economy--providing services that consumers demand while investing, innovating, and producing the high-quality jobs that all Americans strive for. We must ensure that our laws make sense for today but are also ready for the innovations of tomorrow.”

Walden added: “When the Communications Act was updated almost 18 years ago, no one could have dreamed of the many innovations and advancements that make the Internet what it is today. Written during the Great Depression and last updated when 56 kilobits per second via dial-up modem was state of the art, the Communications Act is now painfully out of date. We plan to look at the Communications Act and all of the changes that have been made piecemeal over the last 89 years and ask the simple question: ‘Is this working for today’s communications marketplace?’ Our goal is to make sure this critical sector of our economy thrives because of the laws around it, not in spite of them.”

One item under consideration is retransmission consent. In remarks at the Hudson Institute Walden said, “These laws don’t reflect the truly dynamic marketplace we have today. So what does that mean today for retransmission consent in the 21st century? What we’re really asking here is how do you ensure that viewers are able to access the broadcast programming they want, while, at the same time, respecting the rights of stations that transmit it over the air, ensuring certainty for the advertisers that support it, the networks that create it, and the cable, satellite and broadband companies that deliver it?”

Walden noted that policymakers must be sensitive to the ripple effects of even the smallest changes in the law; “A meaningful update to the Communications Act will require careful examination of the intertwined value chain and a clearer understanding of the ramifications of any changes on the businesses involved and their consumers.”

NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said, “NAB salutes the vision of Chairmen Upton and Walden in proposing a holistic review of U.S. telecommunications policy. There can be little doubt that in this multichannel, multiplatform communications world, local broadcasting remains the essential and indispensable programming source in every American community. We look forward to working with Chairmen Upton and Walden and other members of the Energy & Commerce committee as they consider telecom legislation that sustains a robust future for local broadcasting.”

From Walden's comments and those of Robert McDowell it appears one of the goals of the modifications will be removing restrictions that prevent viewers from getting the content they want anytime, on any device, anywhere. Representative Walden is right--it will be complicated.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.