Congress: Were Ready, Again, to Update 1996 Telecom Act

Several federal lawmakers plan to tackle for the second time in several years a rewrite of the Communications Act.

Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., on Monday said theyll start holding bipartisan meetings in June to develop proposed updates to 1996 Telecom Act. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the communications subcommittee and Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the communications subcommittee, also put their names on the announcement.

A Senate staffer told the Washington Post the senators and representatives recognize that current law doesnt reflect the Web- and mobile-centric nature of communications in America. The source, who wasnt authorized to speak on the record, further told the Post that the lawmakers intend to complement the FCCs broadband reclassification proposal, not preempt it. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski hopes to bring Internet access back under Title II regulation. That way, the agency could keep a closer eye on any service provider attempts to discriminate against users Internet traffic.

Any Communications Act rewrite likely would include, at the very least, mention of Net neutrality to provide clarity on a thorny issue. The FCC has its four principles, and Genachowski wants to add two more, but Congress holds the most power over whether net neutrality should be a specific part of U.S. law. Incumbents, and even some competitive operators and Web giants, are sure to fight such a provision; they argue that Net neutrality is a solution in search of a problem, despite Comcast Corp.s 2008 throttling of BitTorrent peer-to-peer traffic.

Congress last tried to rewrite the 1996 Telecom Act in 2005 and 2006. But too many tries by too many different players including the now-disgraced Ted Stevens, former head of the Senate Commerce Committee led to gridlock. Then, after the midterm elections passed and Democrats had wrested control of Congress from their Republican peers, elected officials attention turned to other, more pressing matters.

The FCC has yet to comment on the Congressional announcement.

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