FCC Opens Internet Proceeding

When it comes to regulating the Internet, Federal Communications Commission chair Julius Genachowski (pictured) is, if nothing else, relentless. In a vote along party lines — the two Republican members dissented — the FCC today opened a new proceeding to reclassifying the Internet as the regulatory equivalent of a phone service, despite a recent court decision that ruled the FCC lacked the authority to do so.

Since 2002, the FCC has classified the Internet as an information service. By reclassifying the Internet under Title II of the 1934 Telecommunications Act, the FCC would be able to set net neutrality rules and regulate the Internet as laid out in the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.

The issue has become red hot on the Hill. Companies such as Google applaud an FCC work-around to achieve reclassification. But cable and phone companies, not to mention 285 congressional members on both sides of the aisle, would prefer the Internet remain unregulated and consider it a matter for Congress.

Genachowski wrapped his latest move around the need for broadband reform. “In view of the court decision….the FCC has an obligation to move forward with an open, constructive public-comment process to ask hard questions, to find a solution, and resolve the uncertainty that has been created,” he said. “The Notice of Inquiry we adopt puts out for comment, even-handedly, several possible solutions to the challenge created by the court case.”

Congressional members that have already made clear their opposition reacted quickly to the FCC’s latest move, pointing out that an unregulated market attracted 200 million new broadband subscribers over the past decade. A full 95 percent of the country has access to broadband.

In a letter to Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Rick Boucher, who chairs the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, Reps. Joe Barton and Cliff Stearns, both Republicans, called for hearings before the August recess on the legal validity and policy consequences of the FCC’s reclassification proposal.

“The Committee must not abdicate its oversight responsibilities on a matter of this magnitude, particularly in light of the huge repercussions such a decision could have on jobs, investment, broadband deployment, and the U.S. economy,” Barton and Stearns wrote.