Democrats Defend Title II Plan from Budget Threat

A quartet of Democratic senators has asked the ranking member of the
Senate Appropriations Committee not to try to block the FCC majority's
effort to classify the transmission element of broadband as a Title II
common carrier service.

At an appropriations hearing on the FCC's
budget last week, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said he planned to try to
block any appropriation that would be used to implement Title II
reclassification. In response, John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the
Senate Communications Subcommittee; Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Maria Cantwell
(D-Wash.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) wrote to Cochran and appropriations
committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), saying, "We are writing to
oppose any effort to use the appropriations process to block the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) from using its existing legal authority
to preserve an open Internet, protect consumers, and provide rural
residents and Americans with disabilities with access to today's
broadband Internet services."

They added: "While the proper
authorizing committees have announced efforts to update and clarify the
law, it is the agency's responsibility to ensure it has the proper
regulatory structure in place to execute its responsibilities under
existing law. Preempting that process through an appropriations rider
would be inappropriate."

The heads of the FCC's oversight
committees have signaled they think it is time for an overhaul of the
Communications Act in the face of a broadband explosion, but have also
indicated that is not meant to preempt the FCC's effort to clarify its
authority to regulate broadband access and issues like privacy, notice
and transparency.

The FCC is scheduled to vote June 17 on a notice
of inquiry proposing various responses to a Federal Appeals Court
decision throwing out the FCC's crackdown on Comcast for blocking
peer-to-peer file uploads by BitTorrent users. Those will include
leaving broadband under the lightly regulated Title I regime and
applying the full force of Title II regs to the Internet, plus FCC
Chairman Julius Genachwoski's so-called "third way" approach of applying
a handful of Title II regs to broadband, while forbearing (not
applying) the rest.

"We greatly appreciate Senators Kerry,
Cantwell, Wyden and Udall's efforts to help all Americans get connected
to broadband," said said Free Press Policy Counsel Aparna Sridhar in a
statement. "Americans will not be able to realize the full potential of
the Internet if our broadband policy stands on shaky legal footing, and
this letter provides critical support for the FCC's efforts to
re-establish its oversight over broadband networks. We couldn't agree
more with the letter's message: Congress should not prevent the FCC from
merely asking basic questions about how best to achieve America's
broadband goals in a manner that is structurally sound and legally
sustainable. We appreciate the senators' efforts on behalf of American

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.