WASHINGTON - The head of the Federal Communications Commission thinks he has come up with a way to salvage his ambitious national broadband plans without running into legal obstacles that have threatened to derail him.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday that his agency has crafted a compromise in how it regulates high-speed Internet access: It will apply only narrow rules to broadband companies. The FCC chairman, a Democrat, said this will ensure the agency has adequate authority to govern broadband providers without being too "heavy-handed." But his plan likely will hit legal challenges from the big phone and cable companies and already faces significant opposition from Republicans at the FCC and in Congress.
The FCC has been scrambling to develop a new regulatory framework since a federal appeals court last month cast doubt on its jurisdiction over broadband under existing rules.
The FCC says it needs that legal authority for the sweeping national broadband plan that it released in March. Genachowski also needs this authority for his proposal to adopt "network neutrality" rules prohibiting phone and cable companies from prioritizing or discriminating against Internet traffic traveling over their lines. Internet companies such as Google Inc. and Skype Ltd. say these rules are needed to prevent broadband providers from becoming online gatekeepers and blocking Internet phone calls, streaming video and other services that compete with their core businesses.
The FCC currently treats broadband as a lightly regulated "information service." It had maintained that this framework gave it ample authority to proceed with its broadband plan and to impose net neutrality rules. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected this argument.
So now Genachowski is seeking to redefine broadband as a telecommunications service subject to "common carrier" obligations to treat all traffic equally. Similar rules apply to other networks that serve the public, including roads, electrical grids and telephone lines.
The two Republican commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Baker, said the proposal would "shatter the boundaries" of the agency's authority and discourage providers from investing in their networks. - AP