For one brief moment, there was
agreement in the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Tuesday
during a hearing on a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Nearly
everyone on both sides of the aisle who delivered opening remarks agreed that
it needed to be done.
“The laws that regulate this
industry are outdated at best and some are affirmatively damaging,” said Greg
Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the subcommittee.
were just 11 references to the Internet, and one reference to broadband in
120-page 1996 update of the Telecommunications Act,” said Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.
Several members noted that they were around for the ’96
rewrite, including Texas Republican Joe Barton. About mid-way through the
hearing, Barton briefly held forth on what emerged as the likely
battle lines of the rewrite.
“I was here in 1996… that Act was a philosophical change
from where the committee and country had been in telecom policy. We had a Democratic
president and a Republican House and Senate,” he said. “The Democrats had a
regulatory approach. We decided to go with a market approach. As Mr. Copps has
pointed out, markets don’t always work, but if they’re open and transparent,”
they provide better services through competition. “Some of my friends on the
Democrat side just don’t like a market approach.”
Copps being Michael Copps, a 10-year veteran of the Federal Communications
Commission who served as interim chairman in 2009 before the confirmation of
Julius Genachowski. Genachowski was notably absent at the hearing that featured
four, former FCC chairmen as witnesses. Copps, who now works for a D.C. think
tank, stayed true to the principles that defined his tenure as a public
statute that invokes ‘the public interest’ over 100 times… cannot be all bad,”
he said in his opening statement after subcommittee members and other witnesses
had all dismissed the ’96 Act as outdated.
“I have heard some say that simply because the Act is
old, it must be obsolete—that no matter how well it has served us, an act
written 18 years ago cannot possibly have relevance in today’s world,” he said.
“As someone only a little younger than the original Act of 1934, I would raise
a caution flag or two. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution
were written long ago too, yet we still find them critically relevant in our
He noted that the United States still has no "African-American owned
full-power TV station;” that “U.S. consumers are paying
more and getting less than competitor countries,” for broadband; and that “there
are still areas where a majority of the First Americans cannot access even
plain old telephone service.”
“We have one communications ecosystem and our job is
to make it work for everyone,” he said.
large over the hearing was Monday’s court decision bouncing the FCC’s Net
Neutrality rules. At the same time, the ruling affirmed that the commission does have the authority to regulate the
Internet. It does not, however, have the authority to impose network neutrality
rules under the current Title I classification. Title I of the ’96 Act defines
telecommunications services, while Title II defines broadcasting. Title II
classification allows more rigorous regulation than Title I.
Walden asked Michael Powell if the Internet
should have been reclassified as a Title II service. Powell was FCC chairman
from 2001 to 2005, and now heads the National Telecommunications and Cable
Association. Powell, whose constituency potentially would be impacted by such a
reclassification, said “no.”
would be the instant application of thousands of page of dated regulations,” he
“Not necessarily,” said Reed Hundt, chairman of
the commission from 1993 to 1997. “The FCC could decide how to apply Title II….
[it] can make a Title I or II
determination, but doesn’t need to. It can choose both or either. The FCC
doesn't have to reclassify ’net access as Title II to regulate it.”
Both Hundt and Copps were more
pro-regulatory than their Republican counterparts, Powell and Dick Wiley,
chairman from 1970 to 1977. Hundt has emerged in recent years as a definitive
foe of broadcasting, favoring instead using that spectrum for broadband. He
mentioned wanting “everybody in America” to be able to use the Internet, and advocated for incentive auction rules defining how much spectrum any one
entity can buy.
“People ought to know if they can walk
away with what they buy, instead of asking [the Department of ] Justice later
if they’re in violation of any aggregation rules,” he said.
Richard Wiley said that highly restrictive regulation of wireline telephony and
broadcasting had disadvantaged those sectors. He had four suggestions for the
Get rid of industry siloes;
Forget intra- and
Focus on consumer protection and public
Regulate with a lighter touch.
Powell said it was important to note
that Internet access “has reached over 90
percent of Americans faster than any technology in history.”
“Consumer Internet speeds in the U.S. have increased by 19
times in the past six years while we’ve maintained the world’s third-most
affordable entry-level pricing for broadband.”
Big Four: Free market, free market, free market, free market.
“The FCC is one of the last of
the New Deal agencies that can set prices, terms and conditions of market
activity,” he said.