Facebook inquiry could lead to trimming of broadcaster regulatory ‘underbrush,’ House Energy & Commerce chair tells NAB

Greg Walden speaks during hearing

LAS VEGAS—Facebook’s tough week in front of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee could deliver more than just a healthy dose of schadenfreude for broadcasters.

Delivering a keynote NAB Show interview with NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith yesterday morning, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who chairs the committee, said the newfound Facebook scrutiny might actually result in lawmakers easing regulations on broadcasters as opposed to cracking down on the social media platform and other so-called edge providers. 

While labeling Facebook and its founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, as innovators, Walden said, “There is an argument that legacy industries like broadcast are shackled while innovators … don’t have to get permits, or answer to anyone, for that matter."

As the Energy and Commerce Committee began to grill Zuckerberg in hearings on Monday over his platform's consumer privacy issues, Walden said that the hearings could present an opportunity for Congress to “clean out the regulatory underbrush for legacy industries” such as broadcast.

RELATED: Charter’s Rutledge urges Congress to crack down on Silicon Valley on privacy

Otherwise, Smith’s half-hour interview of Walden—during which the NAB chief referred to the congressman as “our champion” no less than three times—could charitably be called fawning. Walden’s background as a University of Oregon journalism school graduate and former broadcaster was played up big-time.

“He owned a radio station for 20 years,” Smith noted. “That gives him extra insight in his work in shaping legislation he uses to head his community. We’re grateful for his leadership.”

In keeping with an emerging theme of lawmakers suddenly regulating industries they once captained, Walden contributed this little gem: “Who would have thought I would chair the committee that has jurisdiction over my former regulator? What a great country.”