The court ruling also potentially undermines the FCC’s ability to act on several key recommendations in its national broadband plan, another top priority for Genachowski. These include a proposal to expand high-speed internet access by tapping the Universal Service Fund, the federal program that subsidizes phone service in poor and rural areas.
Genachowski says his new regulatory framework would let the FCC move ahead on both fronts by placing broadband connections firmly within the agency’s jurisdiction as a telecommunications service. At the same time, he has pledged to impose only narrow telecom rules on broadband providers, avoiding burdensome mandates such as rate regulations and network-sharing obligations. He has stressed that his approach would not impose regulations on internet content and services.
Genachowski said June 17 that his plan rejects “both the extreme of applying extensive regulation to broadband and … the extreme of eliminating FCC oversight of broadband.” He said he seeks to restore “the status quo light-touch framework that existed prior to the court case.”
The FCC’s 3-to-2 vote launches a proceeding to examine:
• Genachowski’s proposal;
• The implications of leaving the existing regulatory framework in place; and
• The implications of imposing the full array of traditional telecommunications regulations on broadband providers.
If the FCC ultimately adopts Genachowski’s plan, it almost certainly will draw legal challenges from phone and cable companies that don’t want an end to the current deregulatory approach. That framework was adopted under the Bush administration and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. A battle over any attempt to overturn it could go back to the high court.
Meredith Baker, one of the two Republican commissioners on the FCC, insisted June 17 that the agency has ample authority under the existing regulatory framework to pursue key priorities, including reforming the Universal Service Fund to subsidize high-speed internet connections.
The fight is likely to play out in Congress, too, as the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House Commerce Committees prepare to update the nation’s telecommunications laws for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Comments from the public in response to the FCC’s proposals are due July 15, and reply comments are due Aug. 12. Instructions for commenting are available at www.broadband.gov.