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Walden Seeks to Reauthorize FCC

AM revitalization cited as part of backlog in draft

Former radio station owner and current chair of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee Oregon Republican Greg Walden wants to improve transparency, efficiency and accountability at the agency.

Several proposals are part of a draft measure he’s circulating among the subcommittee in advance of an FCC oversight hearing Thursday. If passed, the measure would reauthorize the agency for the first time in nearly 25 years.

“We are charting the course to make the necessary reforms to an agency that is ill-equipped for the innovation era,” says Walden.

While the subcommittee “commends the FCC’s efforts to clear the backlog in a number of complaint procedures, too many rulemakings, petitions and other applications remain unanswered for extended periods of time,” according to Walden. Three broadcast examples he cites are AM revitalization, Entercom’s 2012 petition to allow stations to move broadcast contest rule explanations online and he believes the agency’s failure to complete the mandated 2010 quadrennial media ownership review is an even bigger problem, “despite the commission’s willingness to regulate media ownership in multiple other ways.”

The chairman intends to roll in the 2010 quadrennial review into the 2016 review, we’ve reported, and the agency is still taking public comments on the broadcast contest rule changes until Thursday. The commission is still working on AM fixes, we’ve reported.

The agency seeks $530 million for FY2016. Walden calls the request “disproportionate” and says lawmakers remain concerned, noting the “sheer size” of the request warrants additional scrutiny. Even adjusted for inflation, the request “far surpasses” what the agency needed to conduct its work when it was arguably its busiest: implementing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, according to Walden.

FCC officials have said much of the increase is to beef-up or replace the commission’s aging IT infrastructure and those needs have changed considerably since 1996.

Walden’s bill would freeze FCC appropriations at the current level for the next four fiscal years.

The commission would also be able to change its regulatory fees to reflect changes in the composition of its work and inflation. It could add a 25% penalty to fees that aren’t paid on time, charge interest on those that aren’t paid at all and dismiss applications or filings of those who don’t pay their fees. After sending a notice and giving a license 30 days to either pay the fee or show why it doesn’t apply, the agency could begin a license revocation proceeding.