The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday took its first formal step towards the adoption of new regulations for the broadband industry, setting the stage for what could become one of the most expensive lobbying campaigns to hit Capitol Hill by major telecommunications and cable providers.
In a 3-2 vote along party lines, Democrats at the FCC on Thursday agreed to begin formal consideration to adopt new rules for high- speed internet companies such as AT&T and Comcast, which have until now operated virtually free of the FCC’s oversight. Technically, the FCC’s majority passed a motion to “open for comment” new broadband rules, the first step to passing the rules.
The move represents a difficult political situation for the White House, which appears to be on a collision course with Democrats in Congress, many of whom support AT&T, Verizon and others and have voiced opposition to the FCC’s plan. It will also test the lobbying prowess of Google and other technology groups that strongly favour greater regulation of broadband companies but have less experience in Washington than the communications industry.
Julius Genachowski, FCC chairman, has said the media regulator would seek only limited enhancement to its regulatory powers. But the legal change Mr Genachowski is pursuing, which would change the classification of broadband providers from Title I information services to Title II telecommunications services, would legally give the FCC far greater authority to enforce rate changes and unbundling.
The FCC and, by extension, the Obama administration, faces a tough adversary which has many friends on Capitol Hill.
AT&T on Thursday slammed the FCC proposal, which it said created “investment uncertainty at a time when certainty is most needed” and could cost jobs. The company said it supported handing the issue to Congress, a prospect “far less risky to jobs and investment than the FCC’s current path”.
Senator Jay Rockefeller, the Democratic chairman of the Senate commerce committee, which oversees the FCC, said he supported the FCC, but added: “In the short term, this is the right course and the right thing to do. In the long term, I believe we need to develop consensus to update the law, further safeguard consumers, and spur universal broadband deployment.”