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Telecoms’ Net-Neutrality Solution: Don’t Call It the ‘Internet’

Coalition of tech and phone companies gives the FCC a way to get around last week’s court decision

What's in a name?

An “Open Internet Coalition” of technology and phone companies — including Google, Amazon, Sony and consumer groups — urged Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski at a press conference on Tuesday to end any legal doubts by formally reclassifying “internet connections” as “phone lines.”

The eventual goal: The FCC enacting net-neutrality safeguards.

The suggestion came the day before Genachowski set to deliver testimony to Congress Wednesday that is expected to include the announcement of actions the FCC will take to assume control over the internet.

A federal court last week ruled (https://www.thewrap.com/ind-column/court-shoots-down-fccs-net-neutrality-agenda-16006 ) that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate new media.

The coalition contends the court ruling can be quickly overcome by the FCC simply reversing its original 2002 decision that internet was an “information service” and not a “phone service.”

“Reclassification is not a radical concept,” Markham Erickson, the coalition’s executive director, said on Tuesday. “It simply returns to the framework Congress adopted in 1996 in the telecommunications act.”

 “We think time is of the essence here,” said Erickson. “The FCC needs to move quickly to open up a proceeding to classify high speed as telecom services.”

He said other alternatives for the FCC to overcome the ruling — either appealing it or asking Congress to resolve FCC jurisdiction issues — would take too long.

“We don’t want to see a decade’s worth of time, where there is no protection for consumers,” he said.

That same move was also urged this week by Susan Crawford, a University of Michigan professor with close ties to the Obama administration in an op-ed in the New York Times.

She said in that article that it was the Bush administration’s move to bar regulation of the internet that was “radical,” and she urged Genachowski to act to reverse course.

Internet service providers, meanwhile, are stepping up their attacks on any move by the FCC to do that.

Hank Hultquist, AT&T vice president of federal regulatory, in a blog post Monday suggested Crawford warned about the FCC acting, suggesting the FCC action “would be unprecedented.”

“Some believe, incorrectly, that broadband internet access used to live under the watchful eye of a wise and beneficent FCC. In this latter-day Eden, the FCC regulated broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service,” he wrote.

He called the scenario “untrue” and revisionist history. He said the FCC has never regulated the internet.

Conservative groups have also warned about the FCC acting. They say the internet has thrived because it is deregulated and regulation would create uncertainties that could impact capital investment and hurt economic growth.