What Now? No Clear Signals in Web Regulation Battle

After Rep. Waxman's aborted (flawed) proposal, advocates still want FCC to step up.

By Jamilah King Oct 01, 2010

After Rep. Henry Waxman announced on Wednesday that he would refrain from introducing a net neutrality bill that many already thought was flawed, there’s no clear signs from D.C. as to where the battle over if and how to regulate Internet service providers is headed.

Waxman has been a long-time proponent of net neutrality, and many advocates were disappointed when word got out that his proposal effectively stripped the FCC of its power to regulate broadband. The measure would have all but ended any efforts to reclassify broadband under the Telecommunications Act and ensure federal oversight. In a statement on Wednesday, Waxman said that he’d continue to push for congressional action, but that now just wasn’t the right time. And because FCC Chair Julius Genachowski seems reluctant to push the issue, Waxman’s being looked at as Internet regulation’s go-to proponent in Washington.

"While bipartisan efforts to set rules of the road were unsuccessful, the FCC still has the power to break the grid-lock on net neutrality," amalia deloney, policy director at the Center for Media Justice (CMJ) told the National Journal. "We hope Waxman follows through on the words of his office, ‘The bottom line is that we must protect the open Internet.’ "

CMJ issued a statement on behalf of outside-the-Beltway groups across the country who are calling for the FCC to take action. "It is unacceptable … for Congress to propose any legislation that is essentially the same as the roundly criticized Google-Verizon plan, and would further disenfranchise many while creating gross prosperity for a few," the group wrote in a letter to Waxman’s office.

The telecom lobby, of course, continues to push against reclassifying broadband as a public good just like landlines and airwaves, and thereby opening up broader regulatory authority.

"This agreement [Waxman’s bill] demonstrates that when all parties act in good faith, and resist extreme voices, it is indeed possible to find a reasonable middle ground on the net neutrality issue," said Jim Cicconi, head of external and legislative affairs at AT&T. "We remain convinced that the proper course is for Congress to decide the scope of authority it wishes the FCC to have in this area."