Democrats push for FCC power over Internet

Google-Verizon proposal for limited Net neutrality rules doesn't allow for sufficient regulation, Rep. Ed Markey and three other House members claim.

Declan McCullagh
Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
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A group of four Democratic politicians claims that a proposal announced last week by Google and Verizon does not give the federal government enough authority to regulate the Internet.

The companies' Net neutrality proposal does not grant the Federal Communications Commission sufficient "oversight authority" and should permit the agency to slap new regulations on wireless services, the politicians said in a letter on Monday.

It was addressed to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, a fellow Democrat, who has been left in an awkward position after a federal appeals court slapped down the agency's attempt to punish Comcast.

Since that ruling, liberal interest groups have been lobbying Genachowski for a new set of regulations, even though a majority of members of the U.S. Congress has opposed the idea. The Google-Verizon framework--which is not formal legislation but instead is a set of concepts--represents the companies' attempt to craft a workable compromise and bring some finality to the often-chaotic discussions of what regulations could be imposed on tomorrow's Internet.

Monday's letter, drafted by Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, says the idea of curbing FCC authority over wireless services "could widen the digital divide by establishing a substandard, less open experience for traditionally underserved regions and demographic groups that may more often need to access or choose to access the Internet on a mobile device."

"The FCC must have oversight authority for broadband access services," the letter said.

It also was signed by Anna Eshoo, whose district includes Palo Alto, Calif., Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, and Jay Inslee of Washington state.

Because of the breadth of opposition in Congress to new, wide-ranging Net neutrality rules, the letter is intended to be mostly symbolic by lending visible support to a Democrat-controlled FCC. (Some Republicans already have been proposing preemptive legislation to halt what they call an FCC power grab.)

A secondary effect likely will be to rally the special interest groups that have been vocal in condemning the Google-Verizon proposal. Joel Kelsey, political adviser for Free Press, worries that it might "transform the free and open Internet into a closed platform like cable television," and activist groups (including some that refocused their anti-war protesting) showed up in front of the Googleplex last week.