Rick Boucher heading telecom committee

Virginia Democrat will succeed Ed Markey

NEW YORK -- Veteran lawmaker Ed Markey will be handing over the reins of the House telecom subcommittee to Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, a co-author of the Anti-Spam Act of 2003 who has been a leader in telecom issues as well.

Boucher, in taking over the telecom panel, will give up leadership of the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment. It means that Markey, who has been instrumental in the telecom committee, will have a much lesser hand in shaping media and telecom policy in the new 111th Congress.

But Markey said in a statement Thursday afternoon that he would work with Boucher on the DTV transition that is scheduled to take place in a little more than a month.

"We will continue to work together to ensure a seamless transition as we exchange subcommittee responsibilities," the lawmakers said in a joint statement. Markey, D-Mass., has been a member of Congress since 1976 and has long been involved in telecommunications, cable and other entertainment/media issues.

Boucher, who arrived at the House in 1983, is no stranger to telecom issues. He's the founder and co-chairman of the bipartisan House Internet Caucus, has been in the forefront of cable and telecom competition issues and was a co-author of the Anti-Spam Act of 2003.

The move comes as Congress has been asked by the Consumers Union to postpone the Feb. 17 deadline for the digital TV transition. One of the issues, the Consumers Union said, was that the coupon program for converter boxes has run out of money and has a more than 100,000-person waiting list for rebates. It isn't clear what action, if any, Congress will take.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, NAB executive vp Dennis Wharton said both Markey and Boucher have the respect of the trade group. NAB looks forward to working with both "in continuing to make the case that the news, entertainment and emergency lifeline services provided by free and local broadcasting are worth preserving and strengthening."

Meanwhile, a group of Republican lawmakers have introduced bills in the Senate and House to try to prevent the Democratic-controlled Congress from resurrrecting the Fairness Doctrine. It was introduced as the Broadcaster Freedom Act of 2009, co-sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and in the House by U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

While the Fairness Doctrine was abolished in 1987, there are some on the left who want to see it come back to regulate the rise of, among other things, conservative-leaning talk radio. The bill would bar the FCC from re-instating the doctrine.

"We should not allow our government to suppress free speech by reversing this decision and regulating the marketplace of ideas," DeMint said Thursday.

The bill was boosted by the NAB in a statement Thursday.