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UPDATE: Rockefeller vows Congressional support for FCC on broadband

Update 3:32 p.m.: With comments from Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) urging FCC to reclassify broadband services.
Update 4:14 p.m.: Quote by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on how the federal court ruling raises question about portions of its national broadband plan.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he would take up legislation to protect the authority of the Federal Communications Commission over broadband services, after a court ruling put the agency's position into flux.

"In the longer term, if there is a need to rewrite the law to provide consumers and the FCC and the industry with a new framework, I as chairman will take that task on," Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate commerce committee said during a hearing on the FCC's broadband plan Wednesday afternoon. "I think that is probably where we're going to end."

A federal appeals court sided last week with Comcast, which disagreed with sanctions put on it for slowing the BitTorrent application on its network. The court determined that the FCC didn't properly use its "ancillary authority" over broadband in its action against Comcast. That decision has thrown the future of the FCC into flux, with a growing debate over how the agency can proceed as a regulator of broadband service providers and create a so-called net neutrality policy that would prevent online discrimination such as that that Comcast did with BitTorrent.

Lawmakers all weighed in on the question of how the FCC would respond to the court decision. Some Democrats called for the agency to more clearly mark its authority over broadband by reclassifying the service as a telecom service. Republicans disagreed.

Ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) meanwhile cautioned the FCC against considering reclassifying broadband services as a telecom service. She didn't mention in her opening remarks whether she would support a congressional mandate that would clarify the FCC's authority to regulate broadband services.

"Without a directive from Congress and without a thorough analysis … the legitimacy of agency would be seriously compromised," Hutchison said.

Rockefeller's comments come after Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) assurances to the FCC that it can reclassify broadband services as a common carrier service that is clearly under the agency's control.

"Of course Congress has the opportunity to address this but before now and the end of the year, I don't think Congress is likely to do it," Dorgan said. "So I think we have to look at the FCC to do it because the FCC unraveled it in the first place."

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the sole witness at the hearing, said attorneys at the agency are still deliberating on how they would proceed after the federal appeals court decision.

"I haven't made a decision yet," Genachowski said, after one lawmaker asked his opinion of what the agency should do.

But he said the court decision raised questions about its ability to fulfill its objective to bring broadband services to rural areas through the $8 billion universal service fund.

"It potentially raises question in a number of areas, including universal service to rual areas, public saftey and cybersecuirty," Genachowski said. "That’s why it's important to make sure eveything we do has a solid legal foudnaiton."

For Rockefeller, the question of a federal agency's power to regulate broadband services is personal and the importance of broadband is personal.

Rockefeller said a tragedy at a mine in his home state in recent days was aggravated by the lack of cellphone service in the area, crippling communications for family members and others at the site.

And he credited Comcast for creating added complexity to the FCC's goal of fulfilling its broadband deployment goals because of its court case against the agency on a net neutrality sanction.

"A lot of people sitting in this room representing industry love deregulation. … There is a history of the recent FCC of non-action when a lot of action was needed. I want to say that this is a committee, as long as I'm chairman, that is here to protect consumers," Rockefeller said.

"Most of the rest of the world can take care of itself. Consumers can’t. People without cellphones can’t make phone calls to the mother of a deceased miner. That’s how I see my responsibility," he said.

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 14, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
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Next: Mixed signals: Does the FCC have authority to regulate broadband?


More bias from Cecilia Kang. Cites remarks of one Republican and three Democrats. Her coverage is again slanted toward her patron Google's regulatory agenda.

Posted by: LBrettGlass | April 14, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

I count Rockefeller, Dorgan as two Dems, and KBH as the one GOP. Can't really count Genachowski, since of course he'll get quoted, he was the only witness at the hearing.

Brett, my good friend. Sometimes you have to hold your powder. I watched the hearing. Most of these Senators on both sides of the aisle were reading from scripts, and it was a snooze-fest. Poor Cecilia didn't have much raw material to work with. This is not bias.

But as for those alleged allegations....

Posted by: DottieBunch | April 14, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Julius Genachowski is proving himself to be a very adept and able administrator... he is exactly the sort the country needs right now. He did not buckle to industry pressure, he bends instead of breaks when setbacks occur, and is willing to rationally come up with and implement a long term plan that is in the public's best interests. Kudos!

Oh and I challenge anyone to tell me how Comcast controlling what websites I have access to is "free-market" or for my own good. There is no plausible reason to not classify the ISP's as common carrier, but if that is not a political possibility, then adopting new strict net-neutrality regs is a good second choice.

Posted by: tsperk | April 14, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

Julius Genachowski has proven himself an able administrator. He is exactly the sort of unflappable, long-term minded leader the country could use more of.

Oh and I challenge anyone to tell me how Comcast controlling what websites or data I have access to is "free-market" or in my own best interest. There is absolutely no reason for the FCC not to reclassify ISP's as common carriers.

Posted by: tsperk | April 14, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

If there's net neutrality, how does an ISP block those Russian virus sites? How do we block spam sources?
Comcast's ridiculously incompetent response to unexpected application traffic was a problem, but I wonder whether turning them into regulated common carriers is really the best fix. Maybe the monopoly deals Comcast made with the cities where it operates are the real problem, and the real solution is serious competition. Why do we put up with cable TV monopolies? Why would we reward a carrier who doesn't know the difference between traffic shaping and forced TCP resets with a city wide monopoly?

Posted by: clsgis | April 14, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

It's strange that the Court ruled in favor of Comcast. It's like the Court is saying that the TENANT is telling the LANDLORD what to do with his asset, the airwaves.

Why is it so hard to grasp the fact that we - the republic, the people, the government, have only granted a LEASE to this private sector - Comcast - and that the country did not grant them the DEED, yes the DEED to OUR bandwidth. If the FCC wants to develop this infrastructure for the benefit of our economy, then let them reclaim their DEED to this resource that belongs to the people/government, and not to a private sector monopoly.

Posted by: AlLemon | April 15, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Let the FCC reclaim the DEED of our bandwith for the benefit of the country and remind Comcast that it was only leased to them.

Posted by: AlLemon | April 15, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Rockefeller also wants to grant the president the power to shut down the internet in the name of homeland security. The Orwell in him knows no bounds.

Posted by: millionea7 | April 15, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

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