Democrats Want to Update Communications Act

First big update since 1996 comes as legislators push FCC to rethink plans to exert regulatory authority over Internet
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The Democratic chairs of the
House and Senate Commerce Committees and their Communications Subcommittees
have begun the process of updating the Communications Act.

The last big update, in 1996,
was short on broadband issues, a point its drafters have lamented. The move would
also come as a growing number of congressional Democrats and Republicans are
pushing the FCC to rethink its reclassification of broadband under the act's
Title II common carrier provisions
and wait for Conagress to give some new
direction on broadband regulation.

The process will begin with a
series of meetings among stakeholders starting in June.

One of those chairmen, Rick
Boucher (D-Va.), suggested recently that Congress and the industry get together
to talk about a way to clarify the FCC's authority to enforce its Internet
openness guidelines and implement the National Broadband Plan.

The commission also needs to
clarify its power to codify and expand its openness guidelines as part of a
current notice of proposed rulemaking on network neutrality.

Public Knowledge, which also backs reclassification, welcomed the interest in taking a second look at the act in light of the changes in the marketplace, but doesn't want that to become the vehicle for clarifying the FCC broadband regulatory power in the short-term, primarily because such a review is a long-term process almost by definition.

“We are very pleased to see this expression of Congressional interest in updating the Communications Act," said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn. "The world has changed considerably since 1996, and Congress should be looking at how the law should accommodate today’s technology and marketplace.  We look forward to participating in this process."

At the same time," she said, "because this appears to be the start of a long process, we believe, as do Chairmen Rockefeller and Waxman, that the Federal Communications Commission has the authority to carry out its plan to set some rules of the road for the Internet, protecting consumers and encouraging innovation and economic activity online.”

The reference to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who are among the quartet planning the revise, is to a letter both sent to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowksi asking him to use the FCC's power to protect consumers.

The other side of the aisle was taken a bit by surprise, House Energy & Commerce Committee Republican spokeswoman Lisa Miller made that claer: "We look forward to reading their press release on bipartisan communications policymaking when they send it to us," she said.

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