Verizon Pitches Rewrite of Telecom Law

By Kenneth Corbin | Nov 23, 2010 | Print this Page
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Verizon is renewing its efforts to persuade lawmakers to undertake a wholesale overhaul of telecommunications law to bring the federal regulatory framework in line with the evolving Internet ecosystem.

Verizon Executive Vice President Tom Tauke, the company's top lobbyist and a former congressman, argued at a conference in Washington that the last major update of the statute, enacted in 1996, has fallen out of step with the brisk growth of the Web.

"The grinding you hear are the gears churning as policymakers try to fit fast-changing technologies and competitive markets into regulatory boxes built for analog technologies and monopoly markets," Tauke said in a statement.

Tauke's pitch comes as network providers, including Verizon, have been engaged in a vigorous campaign opposing efforts by the Federal Communications Commission to shore up its oversight authority in the broadband sector and enact net neutrality rules.

But Verizon, anxious to dodge what it has argued would be burdensome, prescriptive regulations that would chill investment, is asking lawmakers to look beyond Internet transport and establish some baseline federal jurisdiction over applications and other facets of the Web.

"A key reason why the FCC doesn't consider the activities of those who control operating systems or applications is that the FCC looks at the world from the standpoint of its jurisdiction rather than from the perspective of the consumer," Tauke said. "Given the outdated statute, that's somewhat understandable. But from a reasonable person's perspective, that approach makes no sense. That is why we need Congress to update the law."

That proposal follows a line of argument net neutrality opponents have used to counter Web firms like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Skype that have historically championed FCC authority over broadband providers. By arguing that any regulation should logically extend to applications such as search, providers have sought to carry the proposal to its theoretical extreme in an effort to demonstrate an inconsistency in the case for net neutrality.

Earlier this year, traditional policy foes Verizon and Google grabbed headlines when they advanced a proposal for narrow legislation that would empower the FCC to enforce nondiscrimination rules for wireline Internet carriers, but exclude wireless providers.

The issue of FCC authority has been at the center of the net neutrality debate for much of this year following a federal appeals court ruling that struck down an order punishing Comcast for secretly blocking traffic on its network on the grounds that the agency lacked the statutory mandate to enforce a net neutrality policy statement.

In the past week, rumors have swelled that the commission could vote to implement net neutrality rules at its December meeting. No agenda has been made public, and an FCC spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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