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Looking for a ‘Fourth Way’

6/28/2010 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — The focus on clarifying
the Federal Communications Commission’s
authority to regulate broadband
moved to Capitol Hill last week.

Although time is running out before
Congress takes its August break, industry
players are trying to find a legislative
alternative to the FCC’s current approach,
which involves reclassifying broadband
as a common-carrier service instead of an
information service.

Top Democrats and Republicans have
begun meetings on communications
policy with a long-term eye toward how
the 1996 Telecom Act should be revised
and a short-term look at broadband and
the FCC’s regulatory authority.

The FCC continues to try to clarify
its authority to implement the National
Broadband Plan and its ability to oversee
network management via chairman Julius
Genachowski’s so-called third way of reclassifying
broadband.

Pushback from Congress on that approach
helped open the door to the possible
“fourth way.” But such a measure would
likely need to be a “network-neutrality lite”
bill that would clarify the FCC’s broadband
powers without industry nonstarters like
codifying nondiscrimination.

To that end, industry reps were invited
to high-level FCC meetings with the chairman’s
chief of staff , Edward Lazarus, to discuss
a possible targeted legislative solution
to the regulatory limbo the agency found
itself in after the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the D.C. Circuit struck down the agency’s
handling of Comcast’s management of Bit-
Torrent traffic. Despite those talks, several
sources said the parties remained far apart.

Lazarus confirmed the meetings last
week, after Multichannel News and other
outlets reported that they occurred. In a
blog post, he said the meetings were not
about the FCC’s just-opened proceeding
on various regulatory fixes to the Comcast-
BitTorrent decision, so parties were
not required to publicize them.

An industry source familiar with the
talks said the meetings were about “how
to provide guidance to Congress on how to
move forward” with a bill cable and phone
companies could support.

Congress could act before the FCC finishes
its reclassification proceeding, but
an agency source said the odds were long
that it would successfully do so.

Groups that have applauded the FCC
and its new chairman for his proposal to
apply some common-carrier regulations
to broadband transmissions used words
like “unseemly” and “appalling” to describe
the closed-door meetings, to which
they said they were not invited.

Free Press and Public Knowledge,
which have pushed the FCC to reclassify
broadband to ensure it can enforce network-
neutrality rules, decried what they
called back-room dealing with industry.

Markham Erickson, who heads the
Open Internet Coalition, which includes
Free Press and Public Knowledge, attended
the meetings. Public Knowledge
spokesman Art Brodsky said Erickson
would brief the groups, but that was still
not the same as being at the table.

A senior FCC official said there would be
more meetings with other stakeholders.

PRICING STUDY

WASHINGTON — A study from
Georgetown University’s business
school says flexible broadband pricing
will mean lower prices for most users
and actually help drive adoption by
minorities. For more: http://www.gcbpp.org/files/Academic_Papers/Shapiro%20file/New_Analysis_of_
Broadband_Adoption_Shapiro_
Hassett.pdf
.

 

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