Broadband coalitions form to target FCC

Viewers of Washington’s Sunday morning talk shows will see a few advertisements trying to influence the Federal Communications Commission's broadband deliberations.

A new coalition formed to promote the benefits of broadband officially launched Thursday and will begin its media blitz this weekend. The group, Broadband for America, is backed by most major telecom service providers, including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable and Qwest. The industry’s lobbying associations, CTIA and the National Cable and Telecommunications association, are also on board.

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The goal, members say, is to remind the Obama administration, Congress and the FCC that broadband has been successful in the United States and, as a result, now plays an integral role in American lives.

The coalition acknowledged there’s still much work to be done to help people access and adopt broadband.

“There’s a lack of storytelling about the success broadband has been,” said a source from one member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not the coalition’s spokesperson. “So many people suggest it’s been a disaster.”

Under the direction of Congress, the FCC is working on a national plan to expand broadband access. The plan is due to Congress in February. Meanwhile, the Commerce and Agriculture departments are evaluating applications for about $4 billion in stimulus grants for broadband projects.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski last week proposed strengthening commission rules to prohibit Internet service providers from showing preferential treatment to certain types of online services and content. Phone and cable companies, which provide the bulk of broadband service throughout the country, have said the commission’s current guidelines are sufficient and that new regulation is not needed.

Public interest groups, such as Public Knowledge, Free Press and Consumers Union, which are often involved in campaigns to improve high-speed Internet penetration, are not among the groups’ nearly 100 members. These groups have been vocal advocates of the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

The coalition has been organizing over the past three months. Spokesman Phil Singer said the coalition is intended to “be a resource” for policy makers as they develop a course of action.

“To ensure that our nation realizes the full benefits of broadband, federal policies must not deter private-sector investment in broadband infrastructure, which totaled $60 billion last year,” said Jason Goldman, counsel for telecommunications & e-commerce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a coalition member.

Another group, the U.S. Broadband Coalition, involves many of the same telecom providers as well as public interest groups, technology manufacturers and companies such as Google and Microsoft.

On Thursday, the coalition released a report outlining policy options.

Jim Baller, of the Baller, Herbst Law Group, organized the coalition. Because of the conflicting points of view between members, the group laid out options rather than hard-and-fast recommendations.

“We all think it’s remarkable we haven’t killed each other,” Baller said. “It’s up to the FCC to sort through and come up with it’s own report. Then we’ll see if we have additional contributions.”