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Democrats, Hillary Clinton Promise to Defend FCC’s Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality

Josh LongThe Democratic Party in its platform has vowed to resist efforts by the GOP to overturn internet regulations that were adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.

But the broadband industry is plowing ahead to overturn the regulations in court. A number of trade organizations on Friday requested that a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., conduct a so-called en banc review of the open internet rules.

Hillary ClintonIf those appeals are unsuccessful, Republicans may seek to repeal the FCC’s regulations through legislation. But Democrats under presidential nominee Hillary Clinton intend to defend net neutrality in Congress.

“Democrats support a free and open internet at home and abroad,” the 2016 Democratic Party platform declares, “and will oppose any effort by Republicans to roll back the historic net neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission enacted last year.”

Clinton’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation expresses support for the internet regulations, with the presidential candidate promising to “defend these rules in court and continue to enforce them.”

Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, doesn’t appear to endorse the FCC’s net neutrality. “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab,” he tweeted in 2014. “Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.”{ad}

Donald TrumpTrump referenced an FCC policy that the Washington Post has described as requiring TV and radio broadcasters with FCC licenses to “(a) devote some of their programming to controversial issues of public importance and (b) allow the airing of opposing views on those issues.”

The FCC eliminated the Fairness Doctrine under former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the Post reported.

How the doctrine relates to net neutrality is unclear; the FCC’s regulations, adopted in its 2015 Open Internet Order, were crafted to protect an open Internet.

The regulations prohibit mobile and fixed Internet providers from blocking, throttling or so-called paid prioritization of internet traffic. In its order, the FCC also adopted an enhanced transparency regulation that requires disclosures regarding Internet providers’ “network management practices, performance, and commercial terms.”

In June, two judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the FCC’s open internet rules. The judges rejected the broadband industry’s contention that …

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… the FCC lacked the authority to reclassify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act. A third judge partially dissented from his colleagues’ decision upholding the FCC’s regulations.

Several trade organizations on Friday asked the entire appellate court to review the case, including USTelecom, whose members include AT&T, CenturyLink, Windstream and Verizon among others.{ad}

“USTelecom has asked for an en banc review to help ensure that the FCC does not give itself authority – which Congress has not granted – to impose heavy-handed regulation on internet access,” Walter McCormick, president of the trade association, said. “Reclassifying broadband access as a public utility service reverses decades of established legal precedent which has been upheld by the Supreme Court.”

Responding Friday to the developments, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler remarked, “It comes as no surprise that the big dogs have challenged the three-judge panel’s decision. We are confident that the full court will agree with the panel’s affirmation of the FCC’s clear authority to enact its strong open internet rules, the reasoned decision-making upon which they are based, and the adequacy of the record from which they were developed.”

The FCC is an independent agency, with its five members appointed by the president and subject to Senate confirmation. But some Republicans in Congress last year questioned the president’s influence on the FCC’s net neutrality policies.

Although the 2016 Republican platform makes no mention of the internet regulations or net neutrality, the GOP blasted the Obama administration’s work in expanding broadband.

“At the cost of billions, the current Administration has done little to advance our goal of universal broadband coverage,” the Republican platform argues. “That hurts rural America, where farmers, ranchers and small business people need connectivity to operate in real time with the world’s producers. Almost 10 million Americans have given up wired broadband connections in just the last two years alone, and millions more have never been connected in the first place.”

Mark Wigfield, a spokesman for the FCC, said Democrats and Republicans at the Commission have made it a top priority to deploy broadband. He cited a number of actions by the FCC, including among other things, the establishment of a national broadband plan and the modernization of the agency’s rural universal service programs, which resulted in the creation of a multibillion-dollar Connect America Fund to subsidize broadband.

“This relentless focus on broadband has produced results: Between Dec. 2008 and Dec. 2014, the total number of broadband connections in the nation has tripled, from 102 million connections to 321 million,” Wigfield wrote in an email to Channel Partners. “That includes explosive growth in …

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… mobile broadband access, from 25 million subscribers in 2008 to 223 million in 2014, nearly an 800 percent increase. While more remains to be done, the FCC’s hard work on broadband has produced results that are benefitting consumers, businesses and the nation’s economy.”

The Democrats have promised to “continue to support the expansion of high-speed broadband networks.” One of the ways they intend to do that is through the creation of an independent national bank that will support infrastructure improvements, including broadband.

The platform also emphasizes the importance of closing the digital divide and promises to support the deployment of 5G wireless technology. Approximately 30 percent of homes across the United States have not adopted broadband, and the figure is much higher in low-income areas, according to Clinton’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation.

“Democrats will finish the job of connecting every household in America to high-speed broadband, increase internet adoption, and help hook up anchor institutions so they can offer free Wi-Fi to the public,” the Democratic platform asserts. “We will take action to help America widely deploy 5G technology — the next-generation wireless service that will not only bring faster internet connections to underserved areas, but will enable the Internet of Things and a host of transformative technologies.”

The Republican platform also referenced the importance of making spectrum available to support next-generation broadband deployment. Meredith Attwell Baker, a former FCC commissioner who now heads CTIA-The Wireless Association, recently noted that mobile data usage is forecast to increase sixfold by 2020.

A recent wireless auction will help to meet some of the demand. Last month, in completing the first stage of an “incentive auction” in which broadcasters relinquished spectrum to the FCC, the agency valued the TV airwaves at $86.4 billion. The next step is for wireless carriers and others to bid for the spectrum.

On a webpage describing the incentive auction, the FCC noted the proceeding “will benefit consumers by easing congestion on wireless networks, laying the groundwork for ‘fifth generation’ (5G) wireless services and applications, and spurring job creation and economic growth.”


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