Cable, Phone Companies Praise Stearns' Internet Competition Legislation

Cable and phone companies were praising a new bill Tuesday (May 11) that would require the FCC to drive all kinds of data and find all kinds of fact-bases before it takes any steps to assert regulatory authority over broadband, includng reclassifying part of it as a Title II service, as FCC chairman Julius Genachowski last week proposed to do.

It would push the timeline for any FCC reclassification decision to many months, if not years.

The bill, introduced Tuesday by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) ranking member of the House Communications Subcommittee, advertised itself as a measure "to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from regulating information services or Internet access services absent a market failure."

In oversight hearings on the national broadband plan and Title II reclassification, Stearns had argued such a move by the FCC would be out of bounds and unnecessary, saying Congress, not the FCC, should decide what the commmission's authority to regulate broadband should be.

While the bill still allows the FCC to reclassify, it attaches a boatload of preconditions, some playing into the FCC mantra about facts and data driving its decisions.

The Internet Investment, Innovation, and Competition Preservation Act requires the FCC, to the extent that it has the authority to regulate Internet service, to first establish that there is a market failure, that such failure is causing specific harms, and that regulations are necessary, and only the most narrowly tailored regulations at that. All that information would have to be transmitted to Congress in the form of a report.

After that report is transmitted, says the bill, but before the FCC takes any action on, say, reclassifying broadband as a Title II service, the FCC has to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the regulation being invoked.  Those requirements, including economic analyses, take up more than a page in the bill.

But even before the report has been submitted, the FCC has to put everything out for comment and provide drafts of the report to all commissioners.

"We applaud Rep. Stearns for introduction of the Internet Investment, Innovation, and Competition Preservation Act," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow. "This legislation recognizes that unprecedented government regulation of the Internet must be a measure of last resort and that our nation's broadband future depends on continuing policies that promote private investment.  Consumers today enjoy a robust and competitive broadband marketplace that continues to provide more choices, higher speeds and an immeasurable number of services and applications that are revolutionizing commerce, information and entertainment. We look forward to working with Rep. Stearns and other members of the committee as they work on measures aimed at accelerating the expansion and improvement of next generation broadband technology."

"At a time when the telecommunications industry is one of the few bright spots in this troubled economy, it's critical that laws are in place that incent infrastructure investment and job creation; not over regulatory maneuvers that would create uncertainty and harm investment, innovation, jobs, and consumers," said AT&T Executive VP, Federal Relations, Tim MCKone. "New legislation is needed and this is an encouraging first step."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.