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Battle over reclassification intensifies: AT&T against; Google and Skype for

The prospect of the Federal Communications Commission clarifying its role over broadband services has telecom and high-tech companies scurrying to argue for and against the idea.

On Tuesday, AT&T filed comments to the FCC in response to a growing push for the agency to reclassify broadband as a common carrier service. Bob Quinn, head of regulatory affairs for AT&T told reporters that the FCC’s loss to Comcast in a federal appeals case won’t affect its ability to carry out its core plan to reform an $8 billion phone subsidy program. The FCC would continue to rely on its "ancillary authority" for many of its goals in the national broadband plan, which it still maintains, AT&T said.

“The court decision is really overblown,” Quinn said. And in the company’s filing, the phone giant said: “Nothing in the D.C. Circuit decision ... in any way undermines its authority or suggests that the commission must reclassify broadband Internet access services as telecommunications services."

But the Open Internet Coalition – whose members include Skype and Google – feel differently. They told reporters in a conference call that a court ruling against the FCC last week cast serious doubt over its ability to regulate Internet service providers. In order to ensure the FCC can carry out some key aspects of its national broadband plan and carry out a new rule for net neutrality, the group called on the FCC to define broadband services under the same framework as they do telephone services.

And they pitched for a “Title II Lite,” a version of reclassification that would be stripped of many rules attached to phone companies. That process, according to OIC head Markham Erickson, would entail forbearance for certain provisions. The group said the process wouldn’t be easy or fast, but would be faster than an alternative pitched by Verizon and AT&T: a new telecom law, by which Congress would determine the role of the FCC as the watchdog of broadband service providers.

They said plans to reform the USF and proposals on privacy, consumer protections and cybersecurity couldn’t be formed without clear oversight by the FCC.

Erickson suggested that Google, one of its members, also wants the FCC to reclassify.

“We have overwhelming consent” among our members, Erickson said. “There are none that disagree and we are working toward comments that we’ll eventually file in the docket at the FCC.”

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 13, 2010; 4:30 PM ET
Categories:  AT&T , Broadband , Comcast , FCC , Google , Verizon  
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