In a speech to the Annenberg Communications public policy center, Representative Michael Oxley said the FCC posed more of a regulatory threat to the Internet than did Congress.
"In my opinion, the greatest threat to the Internet is the threat that it will be stifled by over-regulation," Oxley said. "And the greatest threat of over-regulation comes not from Congress, but from the Federal Communications Commission."
Oxley, who is vice-chairman of the House Commerce telecommunications subcommittee, is sensitive to questions of over-regulating the Internet. He was chief sponsor last year of the Child Online Protection Act, popularly known as the CDA II, a reference to the original Communications Decency Act.
Oxley's measure, which has been blocked pending a court review, would force commercial Web site operators to check visitor's ages if they offer material deemed harmful to minors, or face $50,000 fines.
But Oxley said yesterday that it was the FCC, not Congress, which threatens to overstep its bounds in trying to shape the Net.
"While this FCC has yet to make the Internet the object of its smothering affection, in my opinion it's just a matter of time," the congressman said. "It's just too tempting, and the FCC in recent years has not been a model of self-restraint."
The FCC will consider a handful of issues that will help shape the future of the Internet this year. The commission will decide on how high-speed access offered by both telephone companies and cable companies should be regulated, helping to determine who can economically compete in those markets.
The commission also is charged with approving the merger between AT&T and Tele-Communications Incorporated, who will jointly offer telephone service and high-speed Internet access over cable lines. Mergers between SBC Communications and Ameritech, and GTE and Bell Atlantic, are also up for approval.
Several other influential lawmakers have said they would introduce legislation targeting the FCC this year. Senators John McCain, R-Arizona, and Conrad Burns, R-Montana, have said they will attempt to restructure the agency during Congress' review of its budget.
In the House, House Commerce committee Chairman Tom Bliley, R-Virginia, along with Representatives Billy Tauzin, R-Louisiana, and John Dingell, D-Michigan, also have said they want to scale back the powers of the FCC this year. Some of these legislators have even said they would be willing to reopen the landmark 1996 Telecommunications Act, which they say has not been the catalyst to communications competition it was intended to be.
Oxley stopped short of that ambitious goal, however.
"Believe me, nobody would like better than I to take another shot at spelling out in clearer terms the intent of the '96 Telecom Act," Oxley said. "But there is no surer way to kill FCC reform dead in its tracks than to reopen those disputes."