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Lawmaker Seeks to Block Reclassification of Broadband

4 Jun, 2014 By: Doug McPherson


WASHINGTON – Net neutrality advocates are urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to classify broadband as a “telecommunications” service – allowing the FCC to enact the same kinds of “common carrier” rules that have long prohibited telephone companies from discriminating when putting through calls.

Earlier this month, the FCC released a proposal to restore net neutrality rules and asked for public comment on whether to reclassify broadband instead of taking an approach advocated by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that would allow broadband providers to engage in “commercially reasonable” traffic management.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) introduced a bill that would prohibit the FCC from reclassifying high-speed Internet service, calling the effort a “misguided regulatory proposal.”

Reclassifying broadband would hurt the Internet economy, Latta said in a statement, adding: “At a time when the Internet economy is thriving and driving robust productivity and economic growth, it is reckless to suggest, let alone adopt, policies that threaten its success. Reclassification would heap 80 years of regulatory baggage on broadband providers, restricting their flexibility to innovate and placing them at the mercy of a government agency. These businesses thrive on dynamism and the ability to evolve quickly to shifting market and consumer forces. Subjecting them to bureaucratic red tape won’t promote innovation, consumer welfare or the economy.”

Insiders say the legislation may get a positive reception in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has opposed past FCC efforts to pass net neutrality rules. It is less likely to pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said last month he plans to introduce similar legislation.

Trade groups USTelecom and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) applauded Latta’s legislation.

“Since the late 1990s, policymakers and regulators have established a bipartisan consensus that a light regulatory touch provides the best path for ensuring that the Internet will become an engine of economic growth and social prosperity,” the NCTA said in a statement. “We support the efforts ... to codify current policy and to ensure that the Internet continues to grow and remains open and free from the burdens of outdated, public utility regulation.”

Analysts say the FCC now is attempting to pass new rules that will stand up in court. The agency also is seeking comment on whether to reclassify broadband as a utility, though it’s made no moves to do so.

But unless the agency recategorizes broadband as a “telecommunications” service, it won’t have the authority to pass rules prohibiting ISPs from discriminating – such as by creating “fast lanes” for some companies.

The FCC’s proposed rules unveiled in May would prohibit outright blocking of sites. MediaPost News reports that the rules also appear to allow Internet service providers to make deals with “edge providers” (content companies like Netflix or Amazon) for faster delivery. The problem is that giving fast-lane treatment to some content providers means that others will seem slow by comparison. Advocates say that system will present a significant problem for startups, non-profits and small companies that can’t afford to pay extra for speedy online delivery.
 


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