FCC chair describes overhaul as middle ground
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday described his push to regulate broadband service providers as a middle ground between two difficult choices, each of which is made possible by a court decision that weakened the agency's ability to oversee companies that provide access to the Web. But critics took issue with his depiction, calling the move a strong push to impose rules on broadband providers.
Chairman Julius Genachowski is proposing to define broadband as a telecommunications service and strip Internet access providers of all but six rules that apply to plain old phones.
"I directed the FCC general counsel and staff to identify an approach that would restore the status quo -- that would allow the agency to move forward with broadband initiatives that empower consumers and enhance economic growth, while also avoiding regulatory overreach," Genachowski said in a statement. "In short, I sought an approach consistent with the longstanding consensus regarding the limited but essential role that government should play with respect to broadband communications."
The companies most affected -- AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other ISPs -- won't be happy with the move, which will strap them with more rules despite Genachowski's assurances for a light regulatory touch, analysts say. That will ignite what is expected to be an intense lobbying effort -- and possible legal challenges -- against the move.
The two Republican commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, disagreed with Genachowski's portrayal of his proposal. They said it is over-regulatory and would hamper the businesses of Internet service providers.
"This proposal is disappointing and deeply concerns us," McDowell and Baker said in a statement. "It is neither a light-touch approach, nor a third way."
Comcast said it also wanted the agency to retain its current regulatory framework but said it would cooperate with the chairman on his proposal.
"We continue to believe the existing classification of broadband as an information service gives the commission sufficient authority to implement both key goals of the national broadband plan and reasonable rules to preserve an open Internet," said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, in a statement.
Genachowski's plan resembles that proposed by Internet content companies such as Google and Skype, who have argued that reclassifying broadband to a new category more clearly under the FCC's authority could be done by applying only a few of the rules that apply to phones.
"We believe the FCC's attempt to reclassify broadband will create a prolonged period of regulatory uncertainty and invite protracted litigation in a way that could complicate various high-priority policy initiatives," said Jeffrey Silva, a senior policy director at Medley Global Advisors.
General Counsel Austin Schlick will announce details of the proposal later this morning.
May 6, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
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