FCC defends regulations targeting broadband providers

Agency official says outage proposal, which critics say is not authorized by law, would aid in promoting cybersecurity and network reliability.

FCC's Jeffery Goldthorp says the agency's authority over 911 should let it oversee what broadband providers are doing.
FCC's Jeffery Goldthorp says the agency's authority over 911 should let it oversee what broadband providers are doing. Declan McCullagh/CNET

WASHINGTON, DC--A Federal Communications Commission official defended his agency's controversial proposal to require broadband providers to report glitches, arguing that it would help with cybersecurity and network reliability.

"We don't get any data at all on some of the most pressing problems," Jeffery Goldthorp, the FCC's associate bureau chief for cybersecurity and homeland security, said yesterday at the Online Trust Alliance's conference here yesterday.

In May, the FCC announced that it wanted more data from broadband providers, saying it "would enable the FCC to track and analyze information on outages affecting 911 service over broadband networks and determine if action is needed to prevent future outages from occurring."

Goldthorp said the FCC also wanted the ability to address the "botnet threat," saying that the agency's Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council is still working out the details.

There's only one problem: Congress never gave the FCC this authority, and in cases like the broadcast flag and the Net neutrality lawsuit brought by Comcast, courts have not been reluctant to slap down the agency when it veers outside its legal authority. (A second Net neutrality lawsuit is underway.)

In comments to the FCC this month, broadband providers objected to the proposal, saying the government could purchase real-time data from Arbor Networks' Active Threat Level Analysis System and that even heavy usage could seem like an outage. They also argued that "it is doubtful" that such a regulatory expansion "would be upheld by a court."

When CNET asked Goldthorp about this, he acknowledged that "there's certainly ambiguity in our authority."

"As for going to Congress and asking for authority, I don't want to comment on anything," he said. "I'm sure that such discussions go on from time to time."

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell also has expressed concerns about the legality of regulations, saying "in my view, we do not have Congress's authority to act as suggested."

 

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