The Federal Communications Commission’s bid to subject broadband services to stricter regulation encountered a new hurdle last Friday, as an informal count of legislators revealed more than half of the members of the House oppose reshaping the regulatory framework through reclassification.
In separate letters to FCC chief Julius Genachowski, 74 Democrats and 171 Republicans aired reservations with the commission’s present course, warning that the move to reclassify broadband a Title II service would retard innovation and stall investment. A few stragglers, including the Dean of the House Rep. John Dingell, brought the tally to 248.
The Republican letter–by-lined by Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Cliff Sterns, senior most Republican on the House and Energy Commerce telecommunications subcommittee–said that reclassifying ISPs as a Title II common carrier is not within the purview of the FCC and should be left at the sole discretion of Congress.
“We write to encourage you not to proceed down your announced path to reclassify broadband service as a phone service under Title II of the Communications Act,” their letter reads. “Such a significant interpretation change to the Communications Act should be made by Congress.”
In 1934, Congress adopted the Communications Act, establishing the FCC and its jurisdiction over telecommunications services–namely, wireless and radio communications. Nearly 80 years later, net neutrality proponents wish to impose that regulatory regime–crafted principally for traditionally telephone services–on broadband.
In years past, the commission operated under the principle that broadband was an “information service” and largely outside its regulatory realm; critics of the FCC’s reclassification move maintain it’s still an apt definition. According to the bill, which was last revised in 1996, an information service is defined as “the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications.”
“Based on these definitions, the FCC concluded on a number of occasions, under both Democrat- and Republican-led Commissions, that broadband is not a telecommunications service and an information service outside the reach of Title II common carrier rules,” the Republicans wrote. “Moreover, the policy consequences of reclassifying broadband and regulating it under Title II could be severe: reduced broadband investment, less economic stimulation, and fewer jobs.”
Quoting section 230 of the 1996 bill, GOP’ers said it is “the policy of the United States ‘to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet and other interactive computer services, unfettered by Federal or State regulation.'” A departure from that framework, under which broadband subscriber rolls swelled to 200 million, “is a matter best left to Congress.”
Last week, senior Congressional Democrats announced both houses will soon consider overhauling the omnibus 1934 telecommunications bill.