Monday, May 24, 2010

U.S. Congress Schedules Hearings on Update to Communications Act

U.S. Congressional leaders are calling for new legislation to update the nation's communications laws, particularly in wake the the recent court ruling that overturned the FCC's authority to regulate Comcast's network management practices.

The initiative is supported by Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Senator John F. Kerry, the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, and Rep. Rick Boucher, the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology.

A series of bipartisan, issue-focused meetings will be held in June.

In a related statement, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said: "Congressional action to update the Communications Act is a clear signal to Chairman Genachowski to stand down on his recently announced plans to reclassify broadband services. Instead of an antiquated regulatory scheme imposed by the FCC, Congress will work to develop a legal and regulatory framework appropriate for our modern communications market."

  • Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski outlined a "Third Way" for regulating Internet traffic and services -- a new legal framework aimed at restoring the status quo consensus that existed prior to the court decision that vacated the FCC's authority to regulate the way Comcast manages peer-to-peer traffic on its network. Genachowski said he supports a light-touch regulatory approach that encourages investment in network infrastructure but that gives consumers "basic protection against anticompetitive or otherwise unreasonable conduct by companies providing the broadband access service (e.g., DSL, cable modem, or fiber) to which consumers subscribe for access to the Internet."

  • In April 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate the way Comcast manages peer-to-peer traffic on its network. The 3-0 court decision focused on the FCC's "ancillary authority" over broadband services. The ruling vacated an FCC Order issued in August of 2008 in which the FCC concluded that Comcast's management of its broadband Internet networks contravenes federal policies that protect the vibrant and open nature of the Internet. Specifically, the FCC concluded that by monitoring the content of its customers' traffic and selectively blocking certain peer-to-peer connections, Comcast unduly interfered with Internet users' right to access the lawful Internet content and to use the applications of their choice.