NAB 2018: Rep. Walden Says He's Not Inclined to Regulate Edge

House Energy & Commerce Committee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said Monday (April 9) he would tend not to regulate Facebook and other edge providers more, but rather would reduce the regulations on their ISP and broadcast competitors.

That came in a Q&A with National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith, where Walden was praised for helping secure additional funding for the post-incentive auction repack.

Smith pointed to the Wednesday House E&C hearing with Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the Cambridge Analytica data sharing flap, as well as fake news and Russian interference. 

Smith said that, from NAB's standpoint, the question was that to date no regulation has been applied to the social media giants competing for eyeballs and ad dollars with broadcasters, while at the same time broadcasters remained highly regulated.

"Do we need less regulation for us or some more for them?" Smith asked.

Walden said people clearly needed to know how their data and information was being used, but he was clearly not ready to jump on the "regulate the edge" bandwagon that has been revving up.

He pointed out that there are user agreements that are enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission, which is the same argument the FCC took in turning broadband regulatory oversight of privacy and neutrality over to the FTC.

He said there was clearly a broader question about how media platforms were evolving, but that as a former journalism major, he wants to get the facts first.

Walden called Zuckerberg and incredible innovator. he said the reason Silicon Valley had created all that innovation and overnight billionaires was that they didn't have to get permission. They just did it. He said he was more in favor of cleaning out the regulatory underbrush so that all flowers could bloom in that landscape of permissionless innovation and light-touch regulation.

Smith gave Walden a shout-out for the underbrush he had already cleared out, while Walden praised broadcasters for their service to the community.

Asked if NAB could do more to convey that value to the Hill, Walden said not to assume legislators know how the broadcast business works, because many don't.

Walden was among friends as he sat for the interview. Smith is a former Republican member of Congress from Oregon, while Oregon Republican Walden is a former broadcaster. Walden received applause from the NAB 2018 crowd and accolades from Smith for fighting for the extra $1 billion in repack funds Congress has given broadcasters-- including full-power and low-power TV stations and some FM radio stations -- for the post incentive auction repack.

But Walden could not guarantee that broadcasters would get more than the 39 months now allotted for the repack. Smith, who has already said the extra $1 billion for the repack should be enough, asked whether Congress would allow the FCC to "force" broadcasters off the air if they could not meet their repack deadlines due to circumstances beyond their control.

Walden said it was no one's intent to push broadcasters off the air, but that there were also people who had paid good money (wireless companies) to access the spectrum. He promised to stay in close contact with broadcasters.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.