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Senators Grill FCC Chief Over National Broadband Plan

in Broadband Updates/Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan/Net Neutrality/States by

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2010 – The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission defended his agency and its National Broadband Plan while facing the business end of a double-barreled, bipartisan shotgun of criticism on Wednesday.

Genachowski appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to defend the plan, only to be chided strongly by senators for a proposal “long on vision, but short on tactics,” as described by panel Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Rockefeller was particularly disappointed with FCC chief Julius Genachowski’s strategy of prolific requests for public comment on key issues instead of commission votes and actions.

“Just seeking comment on a slew of issues is not enough,” Rockefeller told Genachowski, who was the lone witness at the hearing. “It’s action that counts.”

Rockefeller appeared frustrated that the plan was long on data but short on specific plans, passing the responsibility to Congress for making decisions based on the plan’s data.

Rockefeller noted the plan included statistics about his home state’s lack of broadband availability and said he previously had reiterated the problem in that very hearing room without any specific aid from the commission to change those statistics.

Rockefeller was irate that nothing was being done while his state waited for action: “Every day that goes by [without action], communities without broadband in West Virginia and every other state risk falling further behind.”

In the “near term,” Rockefeller called for Genachowski and the FCC to bring “all of its existing authority” to bear to protect consumers and pursue the broad objectives of the broadband plan. But if the law must be rewritten to provide new authority to the FCC, Rockefeller assured Genachowski this would not be a problem.

“I will take that on,” he said, in an obvious reference to last week’s appeals court decision that effectively reduced the FCC’s power to regulate certain broadband services.

The ranking Republican on the panel, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, was equally irate with the FCC for different reasons. “I am…concerned by the aggressive regulatory posture being conveyed by the commission,” she said. “If the FCC were to take the action…reclassifying broadband without a directive from Congress…the legitimacy of the agency would be seriously compromised.”

Genachowski was tepid in his defense of the broadband plan, quoting from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to defend the scope of the plan and its congressional intent.

He argued that the plan’s copious amounts of data satisfy congressional directives: “The plan addresses each aspect of these congressional requirements in a way that reflects a strong conviction that, as our nation rebuilds its economy, broadband communications can and must serve as a foundation for long-term economic growth, ongoing investment and enduring job creation.”

Previously an Assistant Editor at Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily, Andrew served as Reporter and Deputy Editor for BroadbandBreakfast.com until April 2010. Andrew helped produce and interview telecom and tech policy newsmakers for FastCompany.tv’s 2008 “Washington Week,” and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Communicators” series. His writing has also appeared in Linux Journal.

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