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Verizon calls on Congress to rethink Internet oversight, could take away power from FCC

Verizon Communications is calling on Congress to rethink the way the federal government oversees Internet services, witih recommendations that could take away power from the Federal Communications Commission just one week after it unveiled a decade-long plan to bring broadband Internet to the nation.

Verizon Executive Vice President Tom Tauke said at a tech policy event sponsored by the New Democrat Network on Wednesday that the authority of the FCC over broadband is “at best murky.” It was the most forceful statements yet by Verizon in a growing debate over the FCC's oversight of broadband services. A court challenge by Comcast has raised fresh doubts about the agency's authority over those services, prompting some interest groups to push the FCC to reclassify broadband services more concretely under its control.

But as the Internet quickly evolves, Tauke proposed Congress look at whether the federal government should retool its approach. Instead of a regulatory agency making rules for the Web, he said, Congress should consider itself or an agency as an enforcement body – determining bad players who violate consumer protections, for example, on a case-by-case basis. That would supplant the FCC’s rule-making approach to oversight, where it currently issues competition, consumer protection and access rules for communications services providers.

“In my view, the current statute is badly out of date. Now is the time to focus on updating the law affecting the Internet,” Tauke said in his speech. “To fulfill broadband’s potential, it’s time for Congress to take a fresh look at our nation’s communications policy framework.”

The public interest group Free Press said Verizon’s idea could hurt consumers, who would have a weaker FCC overseeing Internet service providers.

“This speech illustrates the incumbents’ desire for a toothless, do-nothing regulator,” said Josh Silver, director of Free Press. “After eight years of that, consumers are left with higher prices, lower speeds and ever-dwindling choices.”

Law professors and analysts say Congress is unlikely to take on a telecom act that would overhaul current mechanisms for how the government oversees ISPs.

AT&T issued a statement after Tauke’s speech, agreeing that Congress should address any questions about the FCC’s authority over broadband Internet services.

“If there are any questions about the authority of the FCC in the Internet ecosystem, the proper answer is not for the FCC to get adventurous in interpreting its authority, as some are urging,” said AT&T senior vice president Jim Cicconi.

The agency has “ancillary jurisdiction” over the Internet service providers, which has put the agency’s authority in doubt just as it embarks on its national broadband plan and a proceeding that would create open Internet rules, known as net neutrality.

Some analysts and legal experts say the agency would need to consider reclassifying broadband services as a common carrier service under Title 2 to clearly mark its oversight.

Tauke didn’t offer many specific examples of what he thinks is the government’s role over Internet services. But he said the government should be light on regulation and offered the idea of Congress overseeing Internet more broadly – which would include not just broadband service providers but content companies such as Google and Yahoo, software makers and device manufacturers of Internet-enabled devices.

He said that rule-making shouldn’t be the focus on the government entity that oversees the Web, but that it should be focused on enforcement.

“Instead, we could structure a process that uses the innovative, flexible and technology-driven nature of the Internet to address issues as they arise,” Tauke said. “Instead of the traditional rule-making process, federal enforcement agencies could structure themselves around an on-going engagement with Internet engineers and technologists to analyze technology trends, define norms to guide such questions as network management and understand in advance the implications of new, emerging technologies.”

By Cecilia Kang  |  March 24, 2010; 2:13 PM ET
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Never ever let businesses decide what is good for America. My memory is not so short that I have forgotten how phone companies provided private citizen information to the government nor have I forgotten how they gauge consumers. The internet must remain open and phone companies should not write regulations to help themselves and screw their customers.

Posted by: NMremote | March 24, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

and I'd add oligopolies such as Comcast to the list. Since they are allowed to operate with little competition, they should be regulated like a utility. Or go back to making them share their lines to create competitive pricing & service.

Posted by: Hattrik | March 24, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

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