Waxman: Web fight doesn't have to kill telecom law update

Concerns over net neutrality don’t need to torpedo Congress’s work on updating the nation’s telecommunications laws, Rep. Henry WaxmanHenry Arnold WaxmanFeehery: Lessons learned from John Dingell Former Rep. John Dingell dies at 92 After Congress, staying in the fight MORE (D-Calif.) said on Tuesday.

The retiring top Democrat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee told a conference hosted by The Capitol Forum that new Web rules “would be a real sticking point” for Congress but won’t necessarily prevent action on other areas.

ADVERTISEMENT

“There are other issues, and there can be a rewrite of the act without that being resolved,” Waxman said, “but perhaps, even then, it could be resolved, given the fact that we start with the status quo of whatever the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] will resolve on a majority basis.”

An update to the 1996 Telecommunications Act — which lays out the rules for regulating TV, phones and all other forms of communication but was written at the dawn of the Internet age — is one of the top priorities for Republicans in Congress next year.

Current law is overly cumbersome and out of date, many critics claim.

The lack of clarity about the FCC’s treatment of the Internet, for instance, has led to disagreements over the basis for new net neutrality rules, which seek to ensure all Web surfers have equal access to the Internet. Many watchers of Capitol Hill have anticipated that the effort could be derailed by a fight over net neutrality, which has become increasingly partisan.

Despite the years that it took to write the previous law, GOP lawmakers have expressed a desire to finalize the issue by the time the congressional term ends in 2016.  

Waxman won’t be a part of the effort but nonetheless expressed support for the push on Tuesday.

“I believe Democrats can and should be open to removing legal barriers to the kind of competitive environment we all envision,” he said. “But technological innovation doesn’t change our values and regulatory intervention may continue to be necessary to protect what the market may never demand.”