On Monday, 74 Democratic legislators sent a letter urging Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski to reconsider a plan to reclassify broadband Internet service. The legislators oppose the FCC's so-called Third Way approach and have started their own movement to update the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The Third Way approach would reclassify the transmission of data as a telecom service. That means the FCC could regulate it. The reclassification notion comes in the wake of the Comcast ruling in April, where an appellate court said the FCC's National Broadband plan reached beyond the agency's rightful powers.
Sen. John Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet; and Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, announced a set of "bipartisan, issue-focused meetings" to begin in June.
Lessons from 1996
Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst, said updating the Telecommunications Act is an important task, but nearly impossible since the industry transforms so quickly.
"The problem was by the time the 1996 Telecommunications Act was signed, the industry had already surpassed the law. That law set the local and long-distance phone companies into competition with each other. That was the model we thought would play out over the next decades. It did not even address the wireless or Internet companies. They just were not important yet," Kagan said.
"Within a few short years the local phone companies won and acquired the long-distance giants. There is no more long distance industry," he noted. "Today, the local phone companies are competing against the cable-television industry. That was not even addressed in the 1996 law."
FCC Sees Opposition
Still, there are many who are trying to update the law and there are clear sides of the telecom fence emerging: Those who agree with the FCC and those who don't. Julius H. Hollis, chairman of the Alliance for Digital Equality (ADE), stands with Congress in its move to review the FCC's reclassification of broadband.
"We believe that the leadership of Rep. (Al) Green (D-Texas) and his 73 colleagues will be instrumental in steering the FCC from a path that will yield higher broadband prices -- essentially keeping the benefits of this great tool out of the reach of those who have the most to gain from it," Hollis said. "Providing access to affordable high-speed Internet to communities that desperately need economic empowerment is essential to closing the digital divide." (continued...)