FCC should keep options open on web rules, two Democrats say

by Todd Shields, Business Week

The Federal Communications Commission should consider all options to retain authority over Internet services after a U.S. court restricted regulators’ powers, two Democratic lawmakers said. Representative Henry Waxman of California and Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who head each chamber’s commerce committee, said they may back an Internet law giving the agency more power, according to a letter today to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

“It is essential for the commission to have oversight” and protect an open Internet, the lawmakers said in a statement. The FCC should consider placing Internet services under the rules applied to telephone companies, they said.

Advocates for tighter Internet rules including Google Inc. as well as opponents such as AT&T Inc. are lobbying the FCC after a U.S. court ruled April 6 the agency lacked authority to regulate Comcast Corp.’s Internet practices.

The Open Internet Coalition, with members including Google and Amazon.com Inc., took its fight for the tighter rules to White House aides. A delegation from the group met advisers to President Barack Obama on May 3, Markham Erickson, executive director of the Washington-based group, said yesterday in an interview.

The coalition is among groups that have said the agency should regulate high-speed Internet access, or broadband, using rules applied to telephone companies that permit controls on price and service. The coalition favors so-called net-neutrality rules that would bar Internet access providers from favoring their own content and services.

‘Light Regulatory Touch’

If the FCC reclassifies the Internet, it should use “a light regulatory touch” and choose not to apply parts of the rules, Waxman and Rockefeller said.

Subjecting the Internet to the rules for telephone service “would mark a radical and unlawful departure” from 15 years of light-touch Internet policy under Republicans and Democrats, executives for AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. said in an April 29 letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. Rules for telephone companies can set prices and impose obligations to serve specific areas, AT&T told the FCC in a filing.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington was “an unfortunate development,” Genachowski said April 28 to an FCC forum. The ruling “has done nothing to weaken my unwavering commitment to ensuring that the free and open Internet is preserved and protected,” he said.

‘Agreed To Listen’

The Open Internet Coalition “asked to visit with White House staff,” said Rick Weiss, a spokesman for the Office of Science and Technology Policy. “We agreed to listen.”

MoveOn.org, which endorsed Obama for president and has opposed the Iraq War, yesterday weighed in by urging members to call the White House.

“The Obama Federal Communications Commission is poised to side with powerful telecom lobbyists and abandon net neutrality -- the key principle that keeps the Internet open to all,” the group said in an e-mail to followers. The message cited a Washington Post story, based on unidentified sources, that reported Genachowski was leaning against invoking the telephone- style rules.

The chairman hasn’t made a decision, FCC spokeswoman Jen Howard said yesterday in an interview. The Open Internet Coalition includes Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine; Amazon.com, the largest Internet retailer; IAC/InterActiveCorp, which owns more than 50 Web sites; EBay Inc., the most-visited U.S. e-commerce site; and Skype Technologies SA, the Internet phone service.

The FCC should claim power to enforce so-called net- neutrality rules, the coalition said in a filing April 26.

article originally published at Business Week.

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