Democrats push FCC ahead of key vote

A letter circulating among Democratic senators stresses that the Federal Communications Commissions' (FCC) plan to boost its power over broadband service providers is about more than net neutrality, a controversial policy that detractors see as an FCC pet issue.

A copy of the letter obtained by The Hill aims to bolster a Thursday vote by the FCC on whether to move broadband under the same authority that regulates telephone services. Broadband is now covered under less stringent rules. Reclassifying broadband services may help the FCC to impose net neutrality rules.

The Democratic letter refutes the notion that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's proposal would "regulate the Internet," as critics, including most Congressional Republicans and major Internet service providers, have contended.

Rather, the plan "simply provides rules of the road for the onramp to the Internet, to ensure that consumers can continue to access the legal content, applications and services of their choosing," the letter says.

Genachowski has received a bevy of Congressional letters in recent weeks on his controversial plan. The majority of members of Congress have come out in opposition to the plan, including 77 Democrats.

The plan would change how broadband service is regulated in a wake of an April appeals court decision that appeared to undermine the FCC's authority to police service providers. 

Genachowski wants to place broadband services under "Title II" of the amended 1996 Communications Act, like telephone services, which are is more stringently regulated than broadband service. In a nod to broadband providers, the plan would strip from the FCC Title II's the most onerous regulations, including price controls.

The senators "recognize [that the chairman's proposal] is about more than the important goal of a free and open Internet," the letter says.  

The letter describes the proposal as pertaining to "whether our first responders will have access to a nationwide public safety communications network, whether Native American and rural communities can share in the benefits of broadband, and whether consumers will have a cop on the broadband beat."