Verizon proposes wholesale rewrite of US telecom law

Nilay Patel
N. Patel|11.22.10

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Verizon proposes wholesale rewrite of US telecom law
Here's something you don't see every day: Verizon just put out a press release titled "Congress Needs to Update the Nation's Antiquated and Anti-Competitive Telecom Rules." Yeah, no tip-toeing around here -- Verizon public policy VP Tom Tauke straight-up says that the government should completely rewrite the Telecommunications Act, and give a single federal agency "clear jurisdiction" to enforce the law on a case-by-case basis. That's a direct shot at the FCC, which lost the Comcast BitTorrent case when the court ruled it didn't have the power to enforce net neutrality, and then provoked the ire of both industry and Congress alike when it tried to reclassify internet communications in a way that gave it the power it needed. That's also way beyond the joint Google / Verizon net neutrality proposal from August -- Verizon's gone from suggesting that the FCC make some policy tweaks to demanding that Congress start over with the law that governs the FCC itself, which is something like the difference between a screwdriver and a sledgehammer.

Now, Congress actually started to consider a revamp of telecom law in May after the FCC's net neutrality plan backfired, and while we haven't heard much about it, we're certain Verizon's emphatic support (and lobbying dollars) are sure to inject some momentum into the process. Truth be told, we'd actually welcome a wholesale rewrite of the current Telecom Act, which was last seriously revised in 1996 and in large part dates back to 1934. But why listen to us when we've got a pithy quote from Verizon? "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." Yeah, this one's going to get good. Full PR after the break.

P.S.- Still unclear on what net neutrality is and why it's important? Check out our Engadget Show interview with Columbia professor Tim Wu and get up to speed.

Show full PR text
Congress Needs to Update the Nation's Antiquated and Anti-Competitive Telecom Rules

Verizon's Tom Tauke Calls for a Federal Framework for Policies That Protect Consumers and the Innovative and Competitive Internet Marketplace

WASHINGTON, Nov. 22, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- With a highly innovative and competitive Internet eco-system now a critical resource for consumers and increasingly important to America's economic growth, Congress must act to address telecommunications policies that are broken.

"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," said Tom Tauke, Verizon's executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications, in discussing the Federal Communications Commission's outdated policies. Tauke pointed out that on the issue of net neutrality, the FCC's focus was limited to how Internet service providers might degrade or block Internet traffic, and not on other sectors of the Internet marketplace where similar consumer harm could take place.

"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."

Tauke spoke on Saturday (Nov. 20) at a panel called "Rewriting the Telecom Act: Has the Time Come?" at the Federalist Society's National Conference in Washington.

Tauke laid out four components to a new policy to guide the Internet eco-system: The policy should be a federal framework. Because of the innovative nature of the marketplace, the framework should not involve anticipatory rulemaking, but rather principles that allow for case-by-case adjudication. The test for government intervention in the marketplace should be to prevent either harm to consumers or anti-competitive activity. And a single federal agency should be given clear jurisdiction.

As part of any regulatory overhaul, Tauke said, safeguards surrounding cyber security and privacy need to be addressed. He also called for a revamping of the subsidy programs for universal access to communications.

Tauke concluded: "This amazing Internet eco-system is not only an economic engine for our nation, it also holds great promise for improving the delivery of health care, revolutionizing our approach to education, and improving our transportation systems and electric grids.

"That is why we cannot allow regulators to impose limits or outmoded regulatory structures on this dynamic eco-system. That is why we do need Congress to replace the current statute with one that is in sync with today's communications technology and marketplace."

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