Speaking at the ACA Summit, Rep. Greg Walden called the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband as a communications service subject to Title II of the Communications Act a “total overreach,” adding that the decision was “illogical” and “illegal.”
Those who oppose broadband reclassification have kept up a steady verbal assault against the maneuver since it was first telegraphed.
The arguments against Title II classification have consistently relied on anti-regulatory and anti-government rhetoric (“overreach,” “illogical,” and “illegal,” along with “onerous” and the like), and on casting the Communications Act of 1934 as out of date.
The ACA has appealed to the FCC for exemptions for its membership, on the basis of concerns that the costs of compliance could be financially crippling for smaller companies. The FCC has often enough accepted this argument as legitimate in the past; it has not with this issue – at least not yet.
Recently opponents have been playing on the right’s naked hostility to President Barack Obama by attempting to characterize FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler as a toady of the Obama White House.
To that end, Walden told an audience of independent cable leaders, “It’s a fiction that the FCC is an independent agency.” He made his remarks during a Q&A with ACA president and CEO Matt Polka at ACA’s 22st Summit. “It’s a relationship directly out of the White House. That is a tragedy for the professionals at the FCC.”
Walden proposed a legislative approach is the best way to assure that ISPs conform to network neutrality principles.
Walden is an especially powerful voice in this matter as the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and as one of the only members of Congress with any direct participation in the telecommunications industry, having once operated a small group of radio stations. If Republicans in Congress can draft legislation to negate the FCC’s move, Waldren will likely be a central figure in the effort.
Advocates of Title II reclassification say the maneuver is necessary because of what ISPs might do in the future, while opponents disagree because of what the government might do in the future.
Walden noted that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is saying “we’ll forbear against anything that will cause a problem. What if the court says, ‘You haven’t done the proper process for that forbearance,’ and strikes down all the forbearance and leaves total Title II utility-style regulation? That’s a very real possibility,” he warned.
Opponents of Title II caution the regulations will slow down investment. The industry has backed off these claims, but Walden says companies are still saying this privately. “I’ve talked to companies that are pretty involved in this. They have told me they expect a 20 percent to 30 percent reduction in their investment,” he said.
“In Europe, they are gleeful, because they know money will move there for investment,” Walden added.
Separately at the ACA Summit, in a panel on media consolidation, Ross Lieberman, ACA’s senior vice president of government affairs, observed that the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable “is not going as Comcast planned,” and added, “I think the odds of it passing have been decreasing.”
After that, predictions fell along familiar battle lines. Dish Network, for example, has been against the merger. Jeffrey Blum, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Dish Network, said, “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the merger was rejected, because of all the harm. It should be rejected, and if regulators do their job, it will be rejected,” Blum added.
John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney for Public Knowledge, said it is likely the merger will be blocked, while the AT&T-DirecTV merger won’t go through as originally proposed but will require conditions.
Hank Hultquist, vice president of federal regulatory for AT&T said the AT&T/DirecTV merger will succeed based on its merits. “If you look at the case that has been made by AT&T, its supporters, and proponents, we have strong arguments that reasons for the merger are consistent with changes in the marketplace, and this is a necessary response to those changes,” he said.
Filed Under: Industry regulations