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FCC, Verizon: Rejoice over your broadband connection

Verizon, Comcast, and a Republican FCC commissioner presage the political fights ahead by stressing a hands-off approach and arguing that Americans have pretty decent broadband choices after all.

ASPEN, Colo.--Unhappy with your broadband connection? You're not focusing enough on the positives, telecommunications companies and a member of the Federal Communications Commission suggested on Monday.

Tom Tauke, Verizon's executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications, said the United States has seen a "tremendous deployment of broadband and wireless" in a remarkably short time. Verizon subscribers sent 10 billion (yes, billion) text messages in June, up tenfold from 17 months earlier, he said.

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell

"Just a few years ago we were talking about trying to get DSL services and cable modem services to 20 or 25 percent of the country," Tauke said during a panel discussion at this year's Aspen Summit organized by the Progress and Freedom Foundation. "Now we have 51 percent of the households in this country, who not only have access to--but have purchased--broadband services."

Joseph Waz, a Comcast vice president and public policy counsel, said that "by the end of this year, Comcast will be America's fourth largest telephone company"--and by the end of next year, it'll be the third largest.

Commissioner Robert McDowell, part of the FCC's Republican majority, was equally enthusiastic. "We have more competition among differing platforms than any country in the world," he said, with cable modem service, for instance, available to something like 92 percent of Americans. (McDowell included the by-now obligatory language, of course, saying there's room for improvement as well.)

So, why would these three senior Washington telecom types be piling it on so deep?

The answer is simple. The audience at this conference has a fair share of congressional staffers on key committees who will be key to writing the next big telecom bill. One last year died without a vote in the Senate, but just about everyone wants some legislative fixes (the Bells want deregulation, Google and its allies would be delighted to see some Net neutrality rules, and so on) so eventually some version will resurface.

The Verizon-Comcast-McDowell initiative, in other words, is simply an effort to look ahead a few months or years. It's preemptive politicking.

Comcast's Waz rattled off a list of eight bad regulatory ideas that he hopes won't be in any eventual legislation, including forcing his company to pay overly high taxes into the universal service fund, subjecting the cable industry to more regulations than telecos, and prohibiting cable operators from investing in exclusive programming. He said he liked PFF's proposed Digital Age Communications Act.

For his part, Verizon's Tauke probably summed up the deregulatory philosophy the best: "Government must ensure it doesn't stop market forces from functioning."