D.C. Divisions Threaten Net Solution

The FCC’s release of the text of its proposed rollback of Title II classification of broadband internet service and the potential rewind of rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization has Washington insiders talking about finding some common ground on compromise rules.

That common ground is more likely to take the form of a give-and-take FCC approach to new rules than of Congress riding in like the cavalry to save the day. A Hill-brokered compromise looks a long way off, as the rhetoric heats up on both sides, driven by activists who support classifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act hammering the FCC over issues with online comments, and as Democrats pledge a pitched battle.

“Democrats and opponents of Title II reclassification would be better served by working with the chairman to shape the new rules,” Adonis Hoffman, former chief of staff to Democratic FCC member Mignon Clyburn, said. “The focus should be on the common-ground core Open Internet principles — no blocking, no discrimination, no paid prioritization — upon which ISPs and others agree.

“We should not forget that former chairman Tom Wheeler was pushing hard for a ‘hybrid’ approach in 2014, which incorporated Section 706, before President Obama twisted his arm to use Title II,” he added. “And former Democratic FCC chairman Bill Kennard argued for ‘light touch’ regulation.”

Pai has said he would welcome some help from Congress in clarifying the FCC’s broadband regulatory authority, but that help is not looking likely in the near-term.

Some Republican lobbyists are pushing for legislation, but Democrats are wary. One source speaking not for attribution said that while communications lobbyists are viewing the issue through a traditional lens, Democrats see it as another chance to get rolled by Republicans, who are looking to pick off just enough Democrats to push through a GOP version of a bill.

ISPs may also be wary that they can’t push through legislation that takes Title II off the table permanently. At the same time, some Democrats see their job as to stop anything the Trump administration tries to push through, or to protect anything it attempts to roll back. Since this administration is not running business as usual, Democrats suggest if the lobbyists’ playbook to get nervous members of their caucus to the table is a Pai proposal, that isn’t a winning strategy.

Getting those Democrats talking will be a Herculean task. They are still stinging from the Republican Congressional Review Act nullification of the FCC’s broadband-privacy rules.

The GOP’s message from that? “If we can roll you, we will,” the source said.

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.