House Dems Blast Google-Verizon Net Neutrality Pitch

Ed Markey and three Democratic colleagues urge FCC chairman to ignore Google and Verizon's net neutrality compromise and tighten regulatory oversight of broadband sector.

By Kenneth Corbin | Posted Aug 17, 2010
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As Google and Verizon make the rounds on Capitol Hill looking for support for their net neutrality compromise, they can expect a cold shoulder from Rep. Ed Markey.

Markey (D-Mass.), along with three other House Democrats, penned a sharply worded letter (PDF available here) to Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, urging him to move ahead with a controversial plan to enact binding net neutrality regulations and ignore Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) proposal.

"The recent proposal by Google and Verizon of an industry-centered net neutrality policy framework reinforces the need for resolution of the current open proceedings at the commission to ensure the maintenance of an open Internet," the lawmakers wrote. "Rather than expansion upon a proposal by two large communications companies with a vested financial interest in the outcome, formal FCC action is needed."

Markey's letter comes as the most public congressional reaction to date to the companies' proposal, which had outlined a compromise framework for legislation to authorize the FCC to enact a rule prohibiting wired Internet service providers from discriminating against certain types of traffic on their networks, but stopped short of calling for a similar rule for wireless networks.

That exemption, along with a suggestion that ISPs be permitted to charge fees for expedited delivery of special types of traffic, such as health-care services or smart-grid applications, has sparked heated criticism from consumer-advocacy organizations that champion rigid net neutrality rules.

Google has defended the proposal as a pragmatic compromise on a long-simmering policy debate that had lead to a political deadlock.

Joining Markey as signatories to the letter were Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and Mike Doyle (D-Penn.). Each is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Markey chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment.

In their letter, the lawmakers asked Genachowski to proceed with a proposal to reclassify broadband as a so-called "Title II" telecommunications service, a designation under communications law that would give the FCC clearer legal authority over Internet access providers.

Genachowski had proposed reclassification following a federal appeals court ruling that struck down an FCC order punishing Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) for secretly blocking traffic on its network. In that decision, the court found that the FCC lacked the authority to censure the cable provider under the current legal designation of broadband service.

That ruling called into question the FCC's ability to implement not only net neutrality rules, but a host of policy proposals included in the national broadband plan the agency delivered to Congress just weeks before the court's decision.

Genachowski had styled his proposal as a "third way" that would stake out a middle ground between leaving broadband unchanged and moving to a rigid regulatory regime. Though he promised to include significant forbearance measures to shield ISPs from the most burdensome regulations, the cable and telecom industries launched a vigorous lobbying campaign opposing the measure.

The political fallout has seen more than half of the members of the House and Senate sign their names to letters urging the FCC to drop the reclassification proposal.

At the same time, key committee leaders have signaled their support. Now, Markey and the letter's three other signatories are calling on the commission to ignore Google and Verizon's compromise and proceed with the reclassification measure.

"Reclassification and clear FCC oversight as contemplated by your 'third way' proposal is critically important for bringing the benefits of broadband to all Americans and achieving the goals set forth in the landmark national broadband plan, including advancement of consumer welfare, energy independence and efficiency, job creation and other national priorities," they wrote.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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