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Unions Urge Congress to Clarify FCC's Broadband Authority

Some major unions are united in their desire for Congress to weigh in to clarify the FCC's regulatory authority over broadband.

In a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D. Calif.), the presidents of the AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have asked for essentially a Congressional alternative to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's Title II broadband reclassification combined with his proposed expansion and codification of the FCC's network openness guidelines.

The commission is proposing to classify the transmission portion of the Internet under Title II common carrier regulations to which it can peg authority over network management decisions like the one that got Comcast in trouble with the FCC in the BitTorrent case, and to be able to implement some portions of its National Broadband Plan including migrating phone subsidies to broadband.

But the unions suggest the faster route is a targeted bill from Congress. "Such a narrowly tailored bill will make clear that the FCC has authority to protect free speech on the Internet and to foster universal, affordable high-speed networks," they write. "Most important, it will allow us to move forward to make the job-creating investments necessary to implement the recommendations and meet the goals of the National Broadband Plan.

Several leading legislators have said there needs to be a congressional revisit and rewrite of the 1996 Communications Act. The unions support that as well, but not as a substitute. "We recognize that there are important long-range issues that should be included in a more comprehensive update of the Communications Act," they wrote, but added, "We urge you to proceed quickly with targeted legislation."

If past is prologue, a Communications Act rewrite could take years.

Also signing onto the letter were the heads of the NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens, the Sierra Club, the National Urban League and the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council.