Democracy & Technology Blog Draft broadband legislation circulates in House Energy and Commerce Committee

Kudos to the House Energy & Commerce Committee for circulating a bipartisan draft broadband legislative proposal. Broadband Internet transmission services (BITS), Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Broadband Video Services (BVS) would be subject to exclusive Federal jurisdiction and would be free from any regulation of rates, charges, terms or conditions. A streamlined franchise process would let a BVS provider commence service within 15 days, and preferential treatment of broadband networks that are owned or controlled by cities would be prohibited. These provisions, if enacted, would provide clarity and certainty that are badly needed to attract investment.

Some things about the proposal that are less than perfect. For example, the term “repeal” is never used. The FCC will likely grow bigger if this proposal becomes law. Current phone service will continue to be regulated even though the market is competitive, and cable networks and VoIP services would be subject to more regulation than they are now.

The FCC is given vast authority to supervise network planning, create a unified compensation regime and mediate and arbitrate negotiations between network providers covering interconnection and reciprocal compensation. VoIP providers must file registration statements with the FCC so they can more easily be forced to subsidize yesterday’s technology down the road through a bloated New Deal-era Univseral Service regime. The mediation and arbitration process will serve as a de facto regulatory vehicle that could be worse than the one we have. What we have now is at least theoretically governed by the Administrative Procedure Act.

The proposal also contains “net neutrality” provisions. Congress must be especially careful in this murky area. It is a realm of delusional conspiracy theories, where the record of actual transgressions is exceptionally skimpy. Usually, Congress follows an unwritten rule of trying to avoid legislating in the absence of significant empirical evidence in order to prevent unintended consequences. If there were ever a need for the rule, this is it.

Hance Haney

Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project
Hance Haney served as Director and Senior Fellow of the Technology & Democracy Project at the Discovery Institute, in Washington, D.C. Haney spent ten years as an aide to former Senator Bob Packwood (OR), and advised him in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the deliberations leading to the Telecommunications Act of 1996. He subsequently held various positions with the United States Telecom Association and Qwest Communications. He earned a B.A. in history from Willamette University and a J.D. from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon.