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Tech Talk: Title II Gets Pushback on the Hill

WASHINGTON — A group of self-described “tech elders,” including some voice-over-Internet protocol pioneers, were here last week for scheduled Capitol Hill meetings covering several issues, chief among them Title II and how Congress can step in to curb the Federal Communications Commission.

Cable and telco operators have been pushing hard for a legislative fix to a Title II regime they argue is unnecessary to protect Internet openness, and call an innovation killer and broadband buildout chiller. Top senators from both parties continue to meet about that legislative option.

The Tech Elders group — which includes Vonage pioneer Daniel Berninger and online video pioneer Mark Cuban — have been lobbying against the FCC’s Feb. 26 decision to classify Internet access as a common-carrier service and are pushing for a legislative solution.

Cuban was not in Washington last week, however, according to a spokesperson for the group (though the NBA Playoffs run of his Dallas Mavericks did not prevent him from being there — the team lost and is out of the running).

The Tech Elders meetings here came as Senate Commerce Committee leaders from both parties are said to be in discussions about a bipartisan bill to legislate the FCC’s basic bright-line rules against no blocking or degrading or paid prioritization, although Berninger has told the FCC that preventing paid prioritization could threaten his innovation and his livelihood.

He pointed to HD voice services he had been working on, but which were made illegal by the FCC’s pivot to a ban on paid prioritization under a Title II regime. Berninger told the FCC that while he agreed the Internet should be defended from would-be gatekeepers, the primary gatekeeper risk came from the commission itself and its “command and control” regulation.

“The insertion of fiat regulatory powers will prove fatal to the entrepreneurial energies responsible for building what FCC chairman Wheeler calls ‘the most powerful network in the history of mankind,’ ” Berninger opined in a Computerworld op-ed last week.

Frederick Hill, communications director for Commerce Committee chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), confirmed that Thune and ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) are in discussions about a bipartisan bill. A bill Thune has already proposed would prevent blocking and degrading and paid prioritization, but would prevent the FCC from reclassifying under Title II. It would also limit the FCC’s ability to use its Section 706 mandate to promote advanced telecommunications as a broad, broadband regulatory authority.

Berninger last week petitioned the FCC to stay its Title II decision until the raft of court challenges — nine at last count — have been resolved.

The “elders” were nominally in town to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the birth of the commercial Internet, but Title II and the transition to an all IP world were top of mind.

While the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and USTelecom, as well as other cable and phone ISP associations are among those suing the FCC over Title II, they are pushing the parallel track of a congressional fix, which they have said they would prefer. NCTA president Michael Powell said in an interview with Multichannel News that he thought the legislative track was a way for all sides to get a win (see Q&A).

The rules go into effect in mid-June unless stayed by the FCC or by the court.

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.