House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden has pledged vigorous oversight of the FCC’s incentive auctions, and last week he made it clear that will include ensuring the FCC treats broadcasters fairly according to the incentive auction legislation Walden helped craft.
Speaking at the opening session of NAB Show in Las Vegas, the Oregon Republican and former broadcaster said that the auctions are “strictly voluntary” [although the repacking of stations isn’t].
Walden said that the incentive auctions give broadcasters who want to sell a new option, including investing the proceeds of the sale into other stations. But for those who don’t take the buyout: “I intend to ensure that the Commission properly implements the provisions of the Act to preserve a vibrant post-auction broadcast environment,” he said.
Walden said that includes making sure the government mitigates border interference, reimburses broadcasters for relocation, and that the FCC does not give away spectrum after it collects it. Walden is concerned about the FCC setting aside too much spectrum for unlicensed use, which will reduce the amount that can be re-auctioned for licensed wireless.
The congressman raised specter of retransmission consent reform, or at least its discussion, as part of the reauthorization of STELA, which is the law that allows satellite operators to deliver distant network signals into local markets via a compulsory license. Broadcasters are not looking for a wideranging discussion of attendant issues as part of that re-authorization, but Walden suggested one might be coming—if not in STELA, then somewhere else.
“As we go forward, I am open to an examination of the larger video marketplace and asking some difficult questions,” Walden said. “While I’m not yet convinced retransmission consent needs reforming, we must begin a discussion on other issues in light of competition and the rise of Internet video.”
The FCC is currently seeking input on the definition of a multichannel video provider and whether those rights and responsibilities should attach to over-the-top video. Walden said the FCC is in need of reforming, saying lately it had spent more time trying to expand its authority than working with Congress to improve the process.
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