Key Democrats Defeat a Gut-Punch for Telecom Policy

This weeks electoral defeat of Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., has dealt a gut-punch to moderate telecom policy-making.

Boucher, a longtime proponent of bipartisan USF reform, a Communications Act rewrite, and some Net neutrality oversight, failed to win re-election on Tuesday after 28 years in Congress. Boucher, the current chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology & the Internet, has led a number of tech policy initiatives this year alone, including work to ensure online privacy.

“I think the tech industry has lost one of its best and staunchest allies,” Sharon Ringley, former deputy chief of staff for Boucher, told Politico. Boucher got the promise of tech and innovation more quickly than anybody,” Sharon Ringley, former deputy chief of staff for Boucher, told Politico.

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, said her organization will particularly miss Bouchers attention to rural telecom matters. Bouchers “keen understanding of telecom issues has helped highlight the need for policies that recognize the unique challenges of serving rural America,” she said in a prepared statement. We will miss working with him.” 

Indeed, with Boucher out of the picture, expect telecom policy to stall somewhat. For example, a legislative USF overhaul has grown even more unlikely” with Bouchers defeat, leaving the FCC to shoulder the effort, investment bank Stifel Nicolaus telecom analysts Rebecca Arbogast and David Kaut wrote in a Nov. 3 client memo.

Behavioral-advertising legislation still may stand a chance, as the Hill pays attention to privacy issues in general, but its not clear how Republicans will address easing the Digital Millennium Copyright Acts protections as Boucher sought to do when it comes to fair use.”

Telecoms Bigger Picture

But theres more to the 2010 elections impact on telecom than Bouchers defeat. Momentum on some key topics will let up as Republicans control the House, and new issues will take shape.

For one thing, proposed Net neutrality regulation will fall to the wayside, analysts said. Republicans in general prefer a free-market approach to an open Internet, which means FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski probably wont get far with a unilateral move to oversee Net neutrality. Medley Global analyst Jeff Silva expects Genachowski to wait until next year, assess the political lay of the land and look for signals from Capitol Hill before deciding his next move” on Net neutrality. Thatll bode well for telecom and cable broadband operators, Silva added in his Nov. 3 memo to clients.

Republicans also will bring more of a pro-business, deregulatory bent” to Congress, Silva said, which means lower taxes for service providers.

Arbogast and Kaut agreed.

We expect bipartisan efforts to address spectrum, cybersecurity, electronic surveillance, and some other tech/media/telecom issues, but overall we believe that major communications bills will be difficult to enact and that aggressive House GOP oversight will keep the FCC on a shorter leash,” they wrote.

However, Silva noted, a GOP takeover of the house does not translate into a Republican mandate on telecom, media and tech policy.

The Democratic-controlled Senate can easily checkmate telecom legislation championed by the GOP-controlled House. As such, the altered political environment appears especially conducive to legislative stalemate,” he said.

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