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Washington Post editorial critical of FCC move to oversee broadband

The Washington Post's editorial board weighed in Monday on the decision by the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. They say the FCC's "third way" -- to reclassify with fewer rules than those for phone services -- isn't the best approach. Instead, the editorial board called for Congress to step in and grant the FCC authority to accomplish broadband policy objectives.

Verizon Communications' executive vice president, Tom Tauke, has suggeste the same, saying broadband governance should fall in the hands of Congress. And if the FCC needs clearer authority, Congress can give it to the independent regulatory body. But public interest groups and analysts say such a course is unlikely given the unpopularity of broadband regulation. Waiting for Congress would delay key objectives in the national broadband plan and a controversial rule for net neutrality, they say.

Here's a key portion from the editorial:

From Mr. [Julius] Genachowski's perspective, the ruling left the agency with a distasteful choice: Either abandon efforts to regulate broadband or reclassify the service to subject it to more muscular legal provisions typically reserved for telephone companies and other common carriers. Mr. Genachowski, in an effort at compromise, chose a third way: apply only a few of the common-carrier provisions to parts of broadband delivery.

This approach is also unacceptable. For some eight years, the agency has argued that broadband constitutes an "information service" and that it should be subject only to a light regulatory touch. To reverse course now by classifying broadband as a telecommunications service would require the agency to throw out years of its own data and analysis. While agencies have broad latitude in reevaluating regulatory schemes, reversals should be linked to significant market shifts. The facts do not support such a conclusion, and the FCC should not now try to shoehorn broadband into an existing -- but incompatible -- regulatory scheme.

What is needed is a fourth way: The agency, industry, consumer groups and other interested parties should work with Congress to craft clear but limited rules tailored to broadband. Advocates of increased oversight worry that the often-protracted legislative process will leave a gaping regulatory void that ISPs will exploit to engage in mischief. This is nonsense. It ignores the ISPs' need to provide good service to keep their customers, and it does not take into account the healthy oversight provided by those consumers and Internet watchdog groups. The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department also have the power to police anticompetitive or fraudulent acts.

By Cecilia Kang  |  May 24, 2010; 11:56 AM ET
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Next: Update: Key Dem lawmakers call for rewrite of 1996 Telecom Act


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