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FCC and Congress take up broadband oversight

A little sunburned and lot more rested, it’s good to be back. Thanks again to Jia Lynn Yang and Ariana Eunjung Cha for filling in while I was on break and speaking in New York at the Untethered 2010 Big Money conference Thursday.

Not that anything big happened in teleco-policyland last Thursday (my long planned trip was really bad timing, I know). Turns out the Federal Communications Commission did as was expected: voted 3 to 2 in favor of opening comments on whether it would reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. And there is much more broadband policy in the pipeline.

Members of the House and Senate Commerce Committees said they would begin this Friday to hold a series of closed-door discussions on broadband regulation, as part of an announced effort to update communications law.

The first set of staff-led stakeholder sessions will address broadband regulation and FCC authority, with a focus on protecting consumers and promoting broadband investment, according to a press release by the committee offices. The committees' staffs will meeting again to discuss spectrum policy and broadband deployment and adoption.

What next for the FCC? The move by Congress to update communications law is separate from the FCC's push to reclassify broadband services. They will be done in parallel, but it's unlikely the Hill will push through new legislation anytime soon, analysts say.

Public comments will flood the FCC for and against its controversial push for greater authority to regulate Internet lines. A majority of lawmakers oppose the move, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees support it. To complicate things further, you'll see some lawmakers and groups like labor unions and civil rights groups pushing for a narrow law by Congress that would allow the FCC to reform a phone subsidy program without having to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications services.

“We don’t believe Congress will pass legislation blocking a Title II move, given political cover from key Hill Democrats,” said Rebecca Arbogast, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. “It’s possible Congress could enact a targeted bill that eliminates the need for reclassification – and Chairman Genachowski welcomed and pledged to collaborate with the efforts -- but we see such legislation as unlikely at this point.”

Labor unions including the Communication Workers of America and some minority groups wrote a letter (pdfLabor - Civil Rights - Enviros Final Letter_1006181.pdf) last Friday to House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) asking for such a bill. They called for a narrowly focused bill that would allow the FCC to reform a phone subsidy program to include broadband and carry out an open Internet, or net neutrality, proposal.

“Such a narrowly focused bill will make clear that the FCC has authority to protect free speech on the Internet and to foster universal, affordable high-speed networks,” wrote the CWA and AFL-CIO, among other groups. “Most important, it will allow us to move forward to make the job-creating investments necessary to implement the recommendations and meet the goals of the National Broadband Plan.

By Cecilia Kang  |  June 21, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  FCC  
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