Surprise: Debbie Stabenow Opposes FCC Power Grab

CAPITOL CONFIDENTIAL

The number of congressional Democrats who oppose the Federal Communications Commission’s bid to reclassify broadband as a traditional telecommunications service has reached seventy-six. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, last week urged Commission chief Julius Genachowski to search for a legislative solution in the adoption of so-called Network Neutrality rules.

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Stabenow, whose disapproval of the FCC’s controversial undertaking promises to spur similar statements from colleagues in the upper chamber of Congress, asked Genachowski and his four fellow commissioners–two of whom are Democrats, and both approve of the measure–to stay the implementation of the agency’s reclassification proposal until Congress can revise the Communications Act.

“I urge the Commission to withdraw its Title II classification effort and work with the Chairs of the appropriate Congressional committees to develop [a] suitable and clear statute that will help us achieve our national broadband goals,” Stabenow wrote in a letter to Genachowski.

Democratic legislators chairing the relevant communications, commerce and technology committees in the House and Senate said last month that Congress will soon “launch a process to develop proposals” to overhaul the bill, which established in 1934 the FCC’s jurisdiction over traditional telecommunications services. Polls indicate that legislative action on net neutrality is slightly more palatable–though only marginally, and still faces broad public skepticism–than the FCC reengineering the regulatory framework of its own accord.

While Genachowski said at a Capitol Hill hearing last week he takes congressional concerns “very seriously,” the chairman and his progressive allies have expressed few, if any, reservations with pursuing their present course.

But that course is not without its own hurdles: Cross-chamber whip counts reveal 285 lawmakers–247 in the House and 38 in the Senate–disapprove of the FCC’s legislative end-run.

The move to reclassify broadband, which the committee historically regarded as as a lightly-regulated “information service,” to a heavily-regulated “telecommunications service” comes after a federal appeals court found in April the commission had overstepped its regulatory authority in the broadband realm.

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