Congress Looks to ‘Update’ Comm. Act

There’s a tug-of-war developing in Washington over which government body has the authority to change the nation’s communications rules. Several Democratic congressional members announced Monday (May 24) they have started a process to “update” the Communications Act, eclipsing recent efforts made by the FCC to regulate the Internet.  

To get the process rolling, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Chairman of the of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce; Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet; and Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, will hold a set of “bipartisan, issue-focused meetings” with relevant stakeholders beginning in June.

The last big update of the 1934 act was in 1996, when the passage of the Telecommunications Act deregulated parts of broadcast ownership, opening up massive consolidation in the radio business, among other provisions.

Although the single paragraph announcement out of Sen. Rockefeller’s office did not provide many details or specifics about topics to be addressed in the June meetings, it’s expected that the Internet and broadband will be front and center.

The move from Congress comes at a time when the Federal Communications Commission is pushing its National Broadband Plan, which ran into a big roadblock in April when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the FCC could not reclassify the Internet under the current Communications Act.

In a letter to the FCC Monday, about 70 Congressional leaders expressed “serious concerns” about the FCC’s attempt to reclassify the Internet, believing the authority lies squarely with Congress, not the FCC.

The process to revamp the Communications Act is not likely to happen quickly, given the number of “stakeholders” involved, from telecom companies to broadcasters to consumers.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 took several years before it was passed.