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74 Democrats defy Obama man's net neut plans

The magic word: 'jobs'

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Seventy-four Democratic members of the US House of Representatives have sided with telcos in the ongoing dust-up over the Federal Communications Commission efforts to preserve net neutrality.

"We urge you not to move forward with a proposal that undermines critically important investment in broadband and the jobs that come with it," reads a letter from Houston, Texas Rep Gene Green, signed by a total of 74 members of Obama's own party.

The proposal that the letter derides is FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's "Third Way", his self-described "narrow and tailored approach" to internet regulation floated earlier this month in response to the April decision by a federal appeals court that sharply restricted the FCC's internet-regulatory powers by overthrowing the commission's sanctioning of Comcast for choking BitTorrent traffic.

Based on a legal framework created by the FCC's general counsel, the Third Way is Genachowski's tightrope-walking attempt to satisfy both the supporters and opponents of net neutrality by having the FCC assume regulatory powers over only the transmission component of broadband-access service, but to steer clear of any controls over content, services, e-commerce, apps, and the like.

The telcos — fervid opponents of FCC regulation — are having none of Genachowski's attempt at a middle ground. They're opposing any extension of telecommunications-style regulation into the broadband marketplace.

One result of what must be a swarm of lobbyists crowding Capitol Hill is the Gene Green letter, which has been published in full by both anti–Third Way organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and pro–Third Way entities such as ColorOfChange.org. (Interestingly, ColorOfChange.org, an organization dedicated to "strengthening Black America's political voice," is balanced by the minority-infused, AT&T-supported Alliance for Digital Equality, which takes a decidedly anti–Third Way stance).

In the letter, Green and his troops argue that the Third Way would stifle broadband investment, and that doing so would impede job growth. "The uncertainty this proposal creates will jeopardize jobs and deter needed investment for years to come," Green writes.

Although Green refers to the Third Way as being "expanded FCC jurisdiction over broadband" that's "unprecedented", it's only fair to point out that Genachowski's proposal would essentially restore the powers that the FCC exercised in the years before the Comcast decision — years during which internet expansion was quite vibrant.

Pro–Third Way congressman issue a public letter like the one floated by Gene Green and his co-signers. But thirteen corporate members of the pro-net-neut OpenInternetCoalition — whose supporters include Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, and Skype — recently sent a letter to Genachowski that said: "we applaud the middle ground approach that you have proposed. We share your belief that this course will create a legally sound, light-touch regulatory framework that benefits consumers, technology companies, and broadband Internet access providers."

Pro–net neutrality org Free Press has also issued a line-by-line deconstruction of the Green letter, calling it "so full of misinformation that no member of Congress should in good conscience put his or her name on it."

All of this letter-writing, invoking of the sacred word "jobs", argument deconstruction, and name-calling is all being done to sway Genachowski's decision on implementing the Third Way, and to jockey for position in preparation for possible Congressional action on net neutrality.

Earlier this month, the chairmen of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation, Henry Waxman of southern California and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia sent — what else? — a letter to Genachowski in support of FCC regulation. In that letter, Waxman and Rockefeller also noted that there might be "a need to rewrite the law to provide consumers, the Commission, and industry with a new framework for telecommunications policy."

But with 74 Democrats enlisting in the anti–Third Way army while waving the highly electable banner of job-protection, with mid-term elections looming, and with other battles such as financial reform, oil-spill face-saving, and Supreme Court–candidate ratification eating up the political bandwidth, it's unlikely that Congress will be diving into the broadband battle anytime soon.

So Genachowski has a choice: he can stick his neck out, introduce the Third Way regs, and face not only accusations that the Obama administration is a job-killer, but also possible legal challenges to the FCC's right to strengthen its regulatory powers without specific legislation — or he can fold.

Perhaps the next step will be for the pro-Third Way lobbyists, funded by Google, Amazon, eBay, and the rest, to shop their own letter around Capitol Hill. After all, there are 255 Democrats in the House, 181 of whom didn't sign the Green letter. ®

Bootnote

Thirty-seven Republican representatives sent their own letter to Genachowski on Monday, denouncing "the heavy-handed 19th century regulations you seek to impose on a highly competitive 21st century communications marketplace." However, reporting that the Republican party opposes an Obama administration proposal is akin to posting that age-old definition of a non-news headline: "Dog Bites Man."

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