Tomorrow the Federal Communications Commission will open a notice of inquiry to review the agency's authority to regulate broadband Internet access, focusing on the "third way" outlined last month by Chairman Julius Genachowski.
In advance of Thursday's FCC meeting, four Democratic senators have sent a letter to the top-ranking members of the Senate Appropriations Committee opposing any attempt to pre-empt the process via an appropriations rider.
“There is lots of work to do and a fight over an appropriations rider would only serve as a distraction from substantive exploration of the issue,” wrote Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on June 15.
Genachowski’s plan calls for the FCC to reclassify the transmission component of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service (like telephones), but to apply only a handful of the attendant regulatory provisions. The Internet itself would remain unregulated.
In addition to comment on this third way, the chairman has proposed seeking comment on maintaining the current legal framework.
The notice of inquiry comes in the wake of a U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decision in April that found the FCC lacks the authority to regulate the network-management policies of Internet service providers under its theory of ancillary jurisdiction.
In their letter to Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the four senators defended the FCC’s approach. “Seeking public comment on all available approaches is a reasonable and responsible way to move forward and we should give it increased clarity and definition through the legislative process,” they wrote. “Congress should not block its consideration.”
Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, applauded the letter. “Chairman Kerry and his colleagues correctly recognize the gravity of the situation. We commend them for their courage in the face of overwhelming lobbying power,” Sohn said in a statement. “The FCC needs grounded legal authority over high-speed Internet access in order to make certain that rural consumers have the support they need to participate in the 21st century economy through universal service support.”