Walden Lays Out Agenda for Energy & Commerce Subcommmittee on Communications and Technology

Also expresses concern about the FCC, saying: “I think their process is flawed, I think they overreach, and they need reform. And we’re going to bring that on.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Greg Walden appeared before a breakfast meeting of The Ripon Society yesterday morning, delivering a speech in which he laid out his agenda as Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and expressed concern that the Federal Communications Commission, in issuing its recent ruling on network neutrality, had overstepped its jurisdictional bounds.

“Look, whether you’re for it or against it,” he stated, referring to the new net neutrality rule, “I don’t believe the FCC had the authority to do it. And that’s the issue we’re raising with the FCC, and we’re going to take it full on. On February 16th we’ll have a hearing, and all five commissioners will be before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. We believe they lack that authority. I think most Members of Congress indicated that in the letter to the FCC prior to their action. I think their process is flawed. I think they overreach and they need reform. And we’re going to bring that on.

“We will be offering a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act that requires a simple majority of both chambers, and is a filibuster-proof action item in the Senate. We will have a series of hearings involving the Federal Communications Commission on this issue and others, especially related to their process and procedures. And this isn’t necessarily to pick on this commission. I think there are a string of commissions that have seemed to take on their own authority, don’t always work well together, maybe operate outside the authority of what the Congress has granted them, and are not as open and transparent as possible.

“One of the rules changes we put in place through the transition effort was to respond to the American public and say we’re going to make the House more open, transparent, and accountable. It is the public’s business, it is the taxpayer’s money, and they should have the right to see what happens. We did that in the House. We’re going to do that to these agencies over which we have jurisdiction. And we’re going to work to the best of our ability to open up these processes.

“When you’re getting 2,000 pages of responses to a rule making and virtually nobody has time to read it at the commission, and then you have a major rewrite of the rule itself in the hours before it’s wrapped up — it’s not a good way to do business. We’ve certainly done that here and the public said, ‘Stop it!’ And we’re going to try and effect that on the agencies to get them to operate in a transparent manner.”

Walden, who is serving his seventh term representing the 2nd District of Oregon and headed up GOP transition efforts after Republicans won control of the House, pointed to several other issues on the Subcommittee’s agenda this year in addition to net neutrality.

“We’ll also be looking at broadband beyond everything else you hear,” he reported. “We think it’s a great way to spur jobs, spur the economy, and raise billions for the treasury — if we look at things like auctioning the spectrum. I know there’s a big debate in this town over the D block. And there are some who think it should be given to public safety, and there are others who believe it should be auctioned off. I’m in the category that believes it is the public’s auction. It’s the public’s spectrum. And it should be auctioned. But we also recognize public safety has needs that we need to help them address, as well.

“Understand that if this issue — if this spectrum — is not auctioned, if it is given to the public safety community, you open a $3 billion dollar wound in a rather bleeding budget. And so you have a $3 billion dollar problem — because that’s the value of the auction, that’s the value they perceive would be in the auction — and that is something we’d have to make up because it’s already been scored by CBO … Spectrums are a really valuable commodity that the taxpayers own. And we’re going to look to see who’s using it, who’s sitting on it, how we can get effective use of it, recognizing you do have rights there and — having been a licensee for 22 years — I understand spectrums.”

Walden also discussed another area the Subcommittee would be looking into – the Universal Service Fund, or USF.

“I think there is bipartisan agreement that the fund is broken,” he observed. “The way that it’s constructed, it is shooting up in terms of its cost. It is now at $8.8 billion — headed up — per year, continues to grow, and currently amounts to about a 15.5% surcharge on your long-distance telephone bills. And it skews competition. The growth of the fund must be controlled and major reforms implemented to refocus it on serving areas where an economic case cannot be made for the private sector to do so. We’re looking forward to working with the FCC to getting this program back on sound fiscal footing.”

Another issue Walden said was on the Subcommittee’s agenda this year were the broadband provisions that were included in the stimulus and, in particular, the provisions relating to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utility Service.

“As you know, they rushed out the so-called stimulus, and the NTIA and RUS were allocated about $7 billion for broadband grants and loans — programs vulnerable, I think, to waste, fraud and abuse. The NTIA’s oversight funding and the current continuing resolution expires March 4th. When this was being debated in the Commerce Committee, some of us made a rather — probably tiresome to others — argument, that you’re going to spend the money to build out broadband in areas before you have the mapping done to figure out where the unserved and underserved areas are. Now, I had trouble with this when they were working through the timelines because it didn’t make much sense to me to tell these agencies, ‘Get the money out the door, go serve underserved and unserved areas, and by the way get the maps done to show where those are after you’ve spent the money.’ This is the illogic of how the stimulus bill moved through the Congress, in many respects.

“So I think it’s prudent to do oversight of how that money was allocated, how it’s been spent. And let’s just note that we’ll have a hearing on Thursday on this issue, with the Inspector Generals from the RUS and NTIA and GAO all there to share their concerns. But understand the money’s just gone out, so I wouldn’t be looking for a huge smoking gun coming out of this hearing on Thursday. But I want to make sure there’s the right oversight in place because the RUS, in prior reviews, has not always managed this program effectively, shall we say, or prudently. And some of the recommended changes by GAO in the past — I think there were 14 of them — really took a long time to get implemented, if they were implemented at all or in total.

“We’re going to be looking very closely, again at this money, and we have legislation that says the money that comes back — because not all of it will get spent — needs to go back to the treasury. And that will be the focus of that hearing on Thursday.”

To view Walden’s complete remarks before The Ripon Society yesterday morning, please click on the link below:

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.