House Lawmakers Launch Process to Update Aging Communications Laws

Goal is to reform law in 2015

Two House Republicans announced an ambitious initiative to rewrite and update the decades-old communications laws that have been overwhelmed by new technologies and new media.

In a Google Hangout Tuesday afternoon, House energy and commerce chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and communications and technology subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said they would begin the process next year with a series of hearings and white papers, in the hopes of ultimately reforming the Communications Act sometime in 2015.

Passed in 1934 during the Great Depression, the Communications Act hasn't had a major update since the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

"We plan to look at the Communications Act and all of the changes that have been made piecemeal over the last 89 years and ask the simple question: Is this working for today's communications marketplace? Our goal is to make sure this critical sector of our economy thrives because of the laws around it, not in spite of them," Walden said.

Former Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell, who joined the two lawmakers on the hangout, warned that it would be a multi-year process.

Of course, no major issue these days is complete without a Twitter hashtag, and lawmakers introduced #CommActUpdate during the hangout. "We want to start a thoughtful process and let everyone have their say," said Walden.

There was little detail about what the lawmakers had in mind and the announcement was over in 13 minutes. But that didn't stop all stakeholders, from broadcasters to cable companies to wireless and telecommunications firms, from cheering what will undoubtedly open up a Pandora's box of communications policies.

Although no Democrats participated in the announcement, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the chairman emeritus of the commerce committee weighed in by cautioning his colleagues to "approach modernizing the Communications Act with great care and attention to detail. … I urge my colleagues to proceed in a bipartisan manner and to hold numerous hearings in order to generate the record an undertaking this substantial will require. This will affect a rapidly changing industry, with many jobs and billions of dollars in investment at stake. We should approach this in a balanced fashion in order to preserve and promote American leadership in the telecommunications industry," Dingell said in a statement.