Rockefeller, Waxman to FCC: Consider reclassification for net neutrality

Two leading Democrats are now imploring Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski not to wait for lawmakers to begin instituting stiff net neutrality rules.

While both Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said they would be "committed" to addressing any need for a "new framework for telecommunications policy," they urged Genachowski in a letter Wednesday to use "all of [the FCC's] existing authority to protect consumers and pursue the broad objectives of the National Broadband Plan."

"To accomplish these objective, the commission should consider all viable options," the lawmakers wrote. "This includes a change in classification, provided that doing so entails a light regulatory touch ... "

That call from chiefs of the Senate Commerce Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee, respectively, arrives just days after unnamed FCC staff members told The Washington Post that Genachowski would not attempt to impose net-neutrality rules using his commission's own rulemaking process.

An effort to reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications service,” an area over which the FCC has statutory jurisdiction, would have returned to the commission its power to regulate broadband providers after a federal court found that current law stipulated otherwise. But that approach would have also invoked the ire of broadband providers and telecommunications companies, some of which have threatened to fight reclassification aggressively in court.

The FCC ultimately told Hillicon Valley this week that a final decision has not yet been made. But speculation that the FCC might punt the issue to Congress ahead of a likely tough midterm election cycle has infuriated net neutrality supporters, who fear Genachowski is abandoning the signature tech issue of the Obama administration.

One of those groups, Public Knowledge, noted in a statement Wednesday that Rockefeller and Waxman are "absolutely correct in their advice" that the agency take net neutrality into its own hands.

"This letter makes clear that congressional leadership considers reclassification as an accepted option to be part of any commission consideration of broadband authority," said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn.

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