Markey, PK: Public Safety May Require Title II

Sen. Ed Markey and Public Knowledge both said Thursday that classifying broadband as a Title II service could be a public safety must-have.

At a hearing in the Senate Communications Subcommittee on the safety and network reliability issues related to the IP transition, Markey (D-Mass.), said he agreed that it may be necessary for the FCC to reclassify broadband under Title II to insure that VOIP 911 calls get completed.

In her testimony for the hearing, Public Knowledge senior staff attorney Jodie Griffin said that the D.C. circuit's decision overturning open Internet rules " called into question the FCC's ability to continue applying certain fundamental policies" to an IP-based phone network, particularly its ability to require VoIP providers to complete all calls, or prohibit them from blocking calls.

Markey agreed with Griffin's assertion that unless the FCC can assure that ability to insure core values like access and reliability under Title I, which she suggests the court signaled it can't, then the FCC should reclassify. Markey said he agreed.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin took issue with the suggestion that the "heavy hand" of government should be used, saying that the marketplace would insure that calls got through.

He asked how many of the panelists wanted to regulate broadband under the telecom rules, and only Griffin volunteered, saying at the end of the day everyone needed to have access. Johnson said that sounded like she didn't think it was in the companies' interest for calls to go through and that the government would need to force them, which he clearly did not think was necessary.

FCC CTO Henning Schulzrinne was one of those witnesses who didn't offer up Title II, but he said from the outset he would be talking technology, not policy. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has made both public safety and sustainable Internet access rules priorities, and has kept Title II in the quiver.

Griffin pointed to rural call completion issues the government had not been able to resolve as of yet, saying that the issue was not necessarily bad actors, but that the technological change left something of an incentive gap for guaranteeing they went through. Johnson said that he thought the marketplace would do a better job than the heavy hand of government. Griffin countered that in too many areas that competition doesn't exist or is not sufficiently robust.

The hearing focused mostly on public safety concerns--insuring that services supported by traditional circuit-switched networks still worked in the IP world, and consumers were protected in the switch-over.

Jonathan Banks, SVP of law and policy for USTelecom, assured his audience that his members were committed to reliability and safety. He pointed out that there was now built-in redundancy in emergencies with other options for phone, including wireless and cable.

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.