Reps. Walden and Upton pushing for new Communications Act

Two prominent lawmakers want to create a new playbook for the media and telecommunications industries.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Communications Subcommittee, said Tuesday that the Communications Act, last updated in 1996, is in desperate need of a rewrite.

“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,” Walden said in a statement. “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updated when 56 kilobits per second via dial-up modem was state of the art, the Communications Act is now painfully out of date.”

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Upton and Walden held a Google chat and were joined by former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who said a rewrite is “absolutely needed” because the current rules are “increasingly irrelevant.”


Neither Upton nor Walden went into detail about what changes he would seek to the act, which the FCC uses in its oversight of media and telecommunications including cable and satellite television.

Any tweaking could take at least one year to come to fruition. The lawmakers said it was their goal to have a new Communications Act in 2015.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who has been a key telecommunications lawmaker over the past 30 years, cautioned Upton and Walden to act with care.

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“Changes should not be made simply for change’s sake, but rather based on clear and documented need,” Dingell said in a statement. “We should approach this in a balanced fashion in order to preserve and promote American leadership in the telecommunications industry.”

Michael Powell, a former chairman of the FCC and currently chief executive of the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn., the chief lobbying arm for the cable industry, praised Upton and Walden’s announcement.

“We have long maintained that many of the laws governing the communications marketplace are frayed,” Powell said. “Since their creation, the landscape has been transformed – new, unimagined products and services as well as dramatic changes in market structure.”


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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.


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