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Walden Slams Title II’s ‘Total Overreach’

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commssion’s decision to reclassify broadband Internet access under Title II common- carrier regulations was a “total overreach,” as well as illogical and illegal, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the House Communications Subcommittee chairman, told small and medium-sized cable operators last week.

But Gigi Sohn, special counselor to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, suggested the new regulations were light-touch rules that should not hurt the American Cable Association members gathered for the organization’s annual Summit here, where both officials spoke.

Walden, in a Q&A session with ACA presidnet and CEO Matt Polka, also said he had off-the-record conversations with companies who had told him Title II rules would translate into a 20%-30% cut in their broadband investment.

Wheeler has downplayed warnings from Internet- servivce providers that investment cuts could be a byproduct of reclassification, pointing to statements by some executives that they would continue to invest regardless.

Continuing his recent criticisms of the Obama administration’s push for Title II, Walden said it is a “fiction” that the FCC is an independent agency and that the White House directive was a “tragedy” for professionals at the agency.

He said there had been no market failure and that Republicans had proposed legislation that could prevent blocking, throttling and paid prioritization by ISPs. Polka said his members support those bright-line rules.

Walden said no Democrats were sponsoring his bill, but that he believed they had been “held in abeyance” until after the FCC’s Title II vote. Although he didn’t say it, it is unlikely that any Democrats would sign on as long as the language foreclosing Title II and weakening Section 706 authority remained.

He signaled that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, would take the lead on video issues in the planned overhaul of the Communications Act, while the House would focus more on FCC reauthorization and reform — he said a lot of the latter was needed — though it, too, would look at video.

Later at the Summit, Sohn told ACA vice president of government affairs Ross Lieberman that small cable operators shouldn’t be adversely affected by Title II’s “light-touch” approach. Lieberman said he’d have to agree to disagree with Sohn on that point.

ACA executives elsewhere at the event said Title II would likely mean rate regulation, and they haven’t ruled out a lawsuit against the FCC.

The FCC is not applying 27 of 43 provisions in the Title II order, and the ones it is applying involve such areas as privacy protections, protections against billing fraud and protections for the disabled. As MSOs, ACA members are already subject to privacy rules, she added.

“I don’t want to be so glib as to say these are ‘sleeves off the vest,’ because they are requirements, but I don’t think you will find them burdensome,” Sohn argued.