Upton On Title II: Don't Go There

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's e-mailbox was getting hit
with letters from the Hill Wednesday (May 5) on both sides of the Title II
broadband reclassification debate.

The latest comes from former House Telecommunications
Subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (D-Mich.), still a senior member of that
subcommittee, which oversees the FCC. He was warning the chairman not to
reclassify broadband as a more heavily regulated Title II common carrier
service, but leave it as a Title I information service.

Upton cites a 1998 report to Congress by the Clinton FCC that
concluded that "when an entity offers transmission incorporating the
'capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing,
retrieving, utilizing, or making available information,' it does not offer
telecommunications. Rather, it offers an 'information service' even though it
uses telecommunications to do so."

In their own letter to Genachowski, apair of top Democrats said Title II should be in the mix as the FCC tried
to extend broadband to unserved and underserved users via the national
broadband plan. But Upton says that while the
FCC does need to focus on getting broadband to "unserved"
populations, "it would be irresponsible to reverse the Clinton administration's proper
classification of broadband services and deregulatory framework, which have
been so successful in making broadband available to the overwhelming majority
of Americans."

The debate erupted last month after a D.C. federal appeals
court reversed the FCC's ruling against Comcast in the BitTorrent case and said
the commission had not properly established its authority to regulate broadband
network management.

That in turn raised the spectre of a "wild west"
scenario where ISPs could block and degrade content with impunity. FCC Chairman
Julius Genachowski has pledged to find the legal underpinnings for the
commission's proposed expansion and codification of Internet openness
principles and various elements in its national broadband plan. But he has yet
to say where FCC lawyers plan to pin that authority.

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.