Congress prepares to regulate broadband
Four key congressmen have scheduled meetings to determine if the Communications Act meets current needs – essentially a preparatory step to updating the nation’s telecommunications law to cover broadband.
The ability to regulate the Internet was raised by Comcast’s recent court victory against the FCC. The FCC attempted to punish Comcast for violating network neutrality principals; Comcast claimed the FCC had no such authority. Comcast’s win in the case affirmed the FCC lacks authority to regulate broadband.
One of the primary goals the FCC set in its National Broadband Plan is to implement programs to encourage wider availability and greater usage of broadband in U.S. The Comcast ruling essentially voided whatever legal authority the FCC had to pursue policies and programs to accomplish its broadband goals.
The FCC does have the authority to regulate communications services, but not information services. Broadband is classified as the latter.
One response for the government would be to reclassify broadband fully as a telecom service and regulate it fully; another is to do nothing. FCC Chairman Genachowski proposed a “third way”: reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service to give the FCC authority to pursue its goals, but not extend the authority to regulate rates or dictate unpopular plans such as line sharing.
Enter four lawmakers ready to revisit the law. They are John D. Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; Sen. John F. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet; and Rep. Rick Boucher, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet. They have scheduled meetings in June to investigate an updating of the law.
As the first step in the process of evaluating and almost certainly revising current law, “they will invite stakeholders to participate in a series of bipartisan, issue-focused meetings beginning in June. A list of topics for discussion and details about this process will be forthcoming,” according to a statement the four released.
Inasmuch as every communications provider has found something in current law to despise, the industry appears to be open to the idea of revisions.
James Cicconi, executive vice president at AT&T, said the company welcomed the Congressional review. “The FCC’s legal authority should be decided by the Congress itself, and not by applying to the Internet a set of onerous rules designed for a different technology, a different situation and a different era,” he said.
The American Cable Association for years has been advocating for Congress to revisit retransmission consent and broadcast carriage rules and sees this as an opportunity to have those matters addressed.
ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka released a statement that said: “ACA welcomes the chairmen’s announcement to update the Communications Act of 1934 and looks forward to playing a constructive role as House and Senate committee leaders begin the process of inviting stakeholders to discuss various proposals in a manner that addresses the regulatory challenges of the broadband-driven economy in a bipartisan fashion.
“Congressional action that would clarify the extent of the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to regulate cable broadband service holds the promise of providing greater certainty with fewer unintended consequences for operators and their customers,” Polka continued.
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