After Republican letter, majority of Congress oppose FCC plan

A group of 171 House Republicans on Friday joined Democratic critics in opposing the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to classify broadband as a telecommunication service, which they suggested was a power grab.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who is spearheading the reclassification, the Republicans reproached his ambition and said only Congress should decide where to classify broadband services.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) and 37 Senate Republicans already had weighed in against the plan.

Genachowski also has earned Democratic opposition; 75 House Democrats have also written the FCC in the last month, charging the chairman with over-reach.

By classifying broadband as a telecommunications service, the FCC would have the power to impose new regulations on phone and cable companies that offer broadband and could implement policies to expand broadband access.

AT&T commended the GOP lawmakers for voicing opposition to the FCC plan. In a statement, the company said it welcomed  bi-partisan Congressional opposition to what is described as "onerous regulations" from the FCC.

The public interest group Public Knowledge shot back that the Republican letter "is nothing more than a demonstration of the unparalleled political and lobbying muscle of the telecommunications industry."

Genachowski in May announced he would seek to classify broadband as a telecommunications service in response to a court decision undercutting the agency’s authority to move on its central agenda items of expanding broadband access and creating net neutrality rules to ensure Internet service providers do not discriminate against content or applications traveling over their networks.

The FCC quickly began to seek new legal avenues for its actions on broadband issues after the federal appeals court decision. 

The letter from House Republicans discouraged Genachowski from “such a significant interpretative change to the Communications Act” and said only Congress should decide whether to abandon policies that have “produced 200 million broadband subscribers in the last ten years.”

It remains unclear that whether the FCC's plan will pass muster in the courts, and stakeholders can appeal an FCC action as soon as an order is issued.

Amid such an uncertain landscape for FCC authority, Democratic committee chairmen announced plans this week to amend the Communications Act to clarify questions over who has the power to regulate broadband access providers. But experts say that process could take years.

This story was posted at 12:27 and updated at 3:18 p.m.