Last updated: November 29, 2010 - 11:37am
The House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet held an oversight hearing exploring the details of the Federal Communications Commission's recently released National Broadband Plan.
Broadcasting & Cable reports that the hearing turned into a sparring match over the potential for the FCC to reclassify Internet access service as a Title II telecommunications subject to mandatory access provisions, at least in the early rounds as legislators traded opening statements. House Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman signaled he supported that move if it was necessary for the FCC to implement the plan and protect consumers.
Free Press was quick to support Chairman Waxman's statement. Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott said, "We commend Chairman Waxman, he is absolutely correct. The FCC must put the needs of consumers first and ignore the 'sky is falling' claims of big ISPs like Verizon that are working to undermine the FCC's authority to promote competition and protect consumers. Just because big corporate interests don't like existing laws doesn't mean that the FCC has no power to enforce them. We are at a pivotal moment in charting our nation's digital future and repairing our international standing in broadband. The FCC must move forward to achieve its goal of universal affordable Internet access."
The issue divided the subcommittee generally along political lines, with Republicans taking aim at the potential for reclassifying Internet access service from the more lightly-regulated Title I regime for information services. Ranking Republican member Joe Barton (R-TX) called the reclassification the "worst idea I have heard in years." He said the didn't want the FCC to regulate broadband as it did phone service in the 1930's, and he said he didn't think the American people wanted that either. former Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI), CongressDaily reports, urged the FCC to avoid imposing another mandate, a requirement that broadband providers "unbundle" their networks, which would involve making their facilities available to competitors at wholesale rates. "This, I think, is to reopen an old fight and gives me a great concern because it could serve as a disincentive to necessary investments," Dingell said.
Reuters reports that Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA) offered support for the FCC's plan to give auction proceeds to broadcasters as an incentive to give up some airwaves highly sought by wireless broadband providers. He called it "the right approach." However, in a sign that there could be opposition to the plan, Rep John Dingell (D-MI) said he was concerned because broadcasters already gave up airwaves during the digital transition, and it could hamper the promotion of diversity and localism. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski could not be pinned down on whether the FCC would force broadcasters off any of their spectrum if its voluntary reclamation proposal does not produce the requisite bandwidth or if there is a spectrum crisis. But he would not commit to a voluntary-only regime, saying he could not predict what might happen in a spectrum crisis. Chairman Genachowski said public TV stations would be protected from any involuntary reallocation of broadcast spectrum. Rep Fred Upton (R-MI) said committee members are working on auction legislation but also expressed concern that reallocating airwaves could cause harm to consumers and broadcasters.
The FCC is also proposing to auction a section of the airwaves called the "D Block" for commercial purposes. The proceeds of that auction is expected to fund an emergency broadband response network for firefighters, police and other public safety officials. Chairman Henry Waxman, said he supports using the D Block auction proceeds for building the emergency system, which could cost between $12 billion and $16 billion to build and operate.
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