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Commerce Committees call for Changes in the Communications Act

At an event on May 20th, Rick Boucher, Chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, stood before a group of telecommunications wonks and described the top seven items he has on the Subcommittee agenda. As we all know, the most powerful tool a Chairman of any committee has is their power over the agenda… so everyone was paying close attention. Over coffee and pastries, he outlined the predictable items: getting more spectrum available for wireless broadband access, completing the spectrum inventory, getting broadcasters to relinquish their spectrum on a voluntary basis, freeing up the White Spaces for unlicensed use, Universal Service reform, privacy measures…. and net neutrality.

Regarding net neutrality, Chairman Boucher explained how he felt they had finally reached a point in the evolution of this issue that both sides were ready to discuss a Congressional “fix”. Alluding to the Comcast vs. FCC Court decision, he voiced support for a two step plan: the FCC’s proposed reclassification of broadband into Title 2 (which clarifies their authority to move ahead with the National Broadband Plan recommendations) would be “Step #1”; “Step #2” would be for Congress to address the issue with legislation.

Following through on this, Commerce Committee and Sub-Committee chairs of both the House and Senate announced this week that they will begin the process to rewrite the Communications Act of 1934. Many at the FCC and in the Republican Party were said to be taken by surprise… certainly no one expected Congress to move this quickly… but you can’t say they didn’t mention it. Genachowski left the door open to Congressional action in his proposal, Chairman Rockefeller told him at the most recent oversight hearing that he would take action “if needed”, and Chairman Boucher as much as announced it on May 20.  Surprised or not, what the opposition is proposing is to skip Step #1 (outlined above) and go straight to working on legislation. Of course, that would leave the question of FCC authority over broadband, including the issue of net neutrality, unresolved until a bill could work its way to the President’s desk….need I say more?

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