Congress to Take up Telecom Act

A bevy of Democratic lawmakers announced today that they plan to take a whack at updating the 1934 Communications Act of 1934 and the Telecommunications act of 1996 (which amended the original). Starting in June, the Commerce Committees of the House and Senate will convene issue-focused stakeholder meetings to work toward a bipartisan amendment to the act.

Here's your background: In March, the FCC unveiled their National Broadband Plan to connect all Americans to the broadband network. In April, the DC Circuit Court ruled against the FCC in Comcast v. FCC, throwing the FCC's ability to regulate broadband into legal question, and putting the Broadband Plan on weak legal footing. In May, the FCC announced they would find a "third way" between giving up on their Plan and subjecting broadband access providers to the stringent "Title II" regulation scheme, and said they would only apply a few basic Title II provisions that would establish clear FCC control without strangling the industry.

While the FCC's proposal was, at face value, a very good one, the legal framework was built on promises, and the door would be left open for future Commissioners to radically re-interpret the FCC's authority. For the FCC to have the authority to pursue its goals-- and just about everybody agrees their goals are important and well-worth pursuing-- congressional action is the best step forward. Congress has the ability to give the FCC clear authority over broadband, and to write the policy in a way that doesn't discourage investment or innovation.  In an address to NDN back in March, Verizon EVP Tom Tauke argued that this was the best way forward, and I'm glad to see that his sensible suggestions have been taken up by our Democratic lawmarkers.

In 1996, not many of us were using broadband.  And just about none of us foresaw the legitimate competition that mobile broadband would eventually pose to wireline broadband providers. And in 1934, well, things were even more different then. The struggle over whether broadband should be classified as a "telecommunications service" or an "information service" is indicative of just how badly we need an update to our laws.  Hats off to Sens. Rockefeller & Kerry and Reps. Waxman & Boucher for taking up this daunting task, and I look forward to some good dialogue.