Skip to main content

VZ's Peter Davidson: Consensus on Need for '96 Act Rewrite

Verizon senior VP for federal government relations Peter Davidson says he doesn't think there is the same kind of alignment of interests among cable, phone companies and others for communications regulation reform this time around as there was in 1996, but says there is a general consensus that change is needed.

Davidson was speaking on a panel at the Tech Policy Institute annual Aspen Forum.

He said that there are currently "a lot of companies pushing for reform from different directions," and consumer advocates and edge providers looking at the current structure and saying it is outmoded.

He said there is no disputing the benefits that have flowed to consumers thanks to the Internet, but what is less clear is the consumer benefit that could be happening if the laws were modernized.

He did say he thought there was a consensus around the need for reform, and that that could drive consensus around a new approach. "The need to modernize based on an Internet culture instead of the culture based of the 1934 act or the 1996 Act is ultimately what is going to bring these disparate entities together to push for reform."

He suggests one of the factors that could drive consensus is the threat of Title II regulation and "realizing that before they invest their money in building out those kinds of structures, certainty on the regulatory front would be a good thing." This is something for Congress to tackle, he said.

Former House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, now head of Sidley Austin's Government Strategies group, said he thought there was real momentum for reform. Looking back on the 1996 Act, which he had a hand in, he said one mistake he thought they made was that "mandated access at regulated wholesale prices was not the way to install competition." Instead, he pointed to "new models" like Google Fiber's strategy of getting local governments to provide incentives like rights of access and regulatory "flexibility," including being allowed to pick and choose where it delivered service, that incumbents don't have. He suggested that was a better way to drive competition and the gigabit networks that have been rolled out, including by incumbents like AT&T also building gigabit networks "in order to meet the competition."

Boucher has said that one way to make sure the congressional communications law reform doesn't happen is to get into the network neutrality issue.

Davidson said that net neutrality could be dealt with in a broad framework with core principles that are then applied by the expert agency, as oppposed to the "muck" of Sec. 706 vs. Title II.

Davidson also said that a Communications Act review has to be from the "bottom up," and not "messing around the edges," tweaking and setting up more regulatory silos.

Boucher said he thought the current approach of House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the current Communications Subcommittee chair was "a very thoughtful approach" and "much more farsighted than what we did in '96."

The committee has issues four white papers on various topics, soliciting industry and other stakeholder comment in its run-up to a planned deep dive on reform next year.

"On leadership, and I'm a Democrat and I guess it is with credibility that I say this, I give these two Republicans real credit for setting a workable time frame and creating a focus on high-level principles."

Editor's note: The original story incorrectly attributed the Verizon quotes to EVP for public policy and government affairs Craig Silliman.