House Hearing Shapes Up as Title II Fight

The House broadband oversight
hearing turned into a sparring match over the potential for the FCC to
reclassify Internet access service as a Title II telecommunications subject to
mandatory access provisions, at least in the early rounds as legislators traded
opening statements.

House Energy & Commerce
Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) signaled he supported that move if
it was necessary for the FCC to implement the plan and protect consumers.

The issue divided the
committee generally along political lines, with Republicans taking aim at the
potential for reclassifying Internet access service from the more lightly-regulated
Title I regime for information services.

Ranking Republican member Joe
Barton (R-Tex.) called the reclassification the "worst idea I have heard
in years." He said the didn't want the Internet to regulate broadband as
it did phone service in the 1930's, and he said he didn't think the American people
wanted that either.

The FCC raised that issue in
the plan because a court is currently hearing a challenge by Comcast to the
FCC's BitTorrent decision on its broadband network management techniques. The
fear from network neutrality supporters is that the court will rule that the
FCC lacked the authority to take action against Comcast's network management,
which could put its Internet regulatory authority under Title I in question.

Everyone gave the FCC props
for the hard work that went into the plan. But Republicans said the private
market had been doing a good job already of getting broadband to 95% of the country,
and that the plan had many troubling, potential investment-depressing
regulatory suggestions. Democrats generally argued that the nation
continued to lag the world in broadband and the plan was a necessary bold move
to close that gap.

In his opening statement, Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell argued that it was because Internet service was classifed as a less regulated information service, broadand has flourished, with $60 billion in private broadband investment last year alone.

The Title I question calls for a return to classfying broadband as a telecommunications service, he 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.