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House Subcommittee Puts FCC, Net Neutrality On Firing Line

WASHINGTON, February 17, 2011 – Members of the House subcommittee on Communications and Technology took the opportunity during a hearing on Wednesday to grill the five FCC commissioners on the Commission’s recent Open Internet Order in a marathon session.



WASHINGTON, February 17, 2011 – Members of the House subcommittee on Communications and Technology took the opportunity during a hearing on Wednesday to grill the five FCC commissioners on the Commission’s recent Open Internet Order in a marathon session.

The Order, which the Commission passed by a 3-2 vote in December of last year, provides three guidelines by which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must abide in their offerings to consumers.  First, ISPs must provide services in a transparent manner by disclosing their network management practices and performance characteristics.  Second, network providers must not block lawful content from their customers, and third, providers may not unreasonably discriminate by prioritizing certain network traffic without sufficient reason.

The hearing lasted four hours in front of a standing-room only gallery that watched both sides trade barbs with the commissioners and each other.  Republican members attacked the Order as unnecessary, beyond the statutory authority of the Commission, and poorly drafted, opening the door to exploitation and overregulation by the FCC in the future.

“Consumers can access anything they want with the click of a mouse thanks to our historical hands-off approach,” said subcommittee Chair, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) in his opening remarks. “Changing direction now will only harm innovation and the economy.”

The Democratic members, meanwhile, defended the Order as protecting consumer interests against historical and ongoing abuses by ISPs, grounded in the Commission’s mandate from the Communications Act and flexible to accommodate a “light-touch” approach to maintaining an open Internet.

“Without some clear rules of the road,” said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), ranking member on the subcommittee, “large corporations can carve up the Internet into fast and slow lanes, charging a toll for content, and blocking innovators from entering the information superhighway.”

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MD) compared the Order to regulations protecting the market against exploitation by the Bell telephone system in the last century.

“Government policy has created deregulation [in the internet space],” said Markey.  “You don’t go from black rotary dial phones from blackberry phones unless the government intervenes.”

During their opening remarks, the commissioners largely echoed the sentiments they expressed during the Commission’s vote in December.  Chairman Julius Genachowski described the construction of the Order as a “balanced approach that helps ensure that companies and investors… have the incentives they need to make those investments.”

Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Baker, both of whom dissented to the Order, called into question the need for such a rulemaking in the first place, citing the Internet as a vibrant, competitive marketplace.  Commissioner McDowell also supplemented his statement with his original dissent to the Order – a 28-page document, complete with more than 100 footnotes, much of which questioned the statutory authority of the FCC’s action.

“The Internet is open without the need for affirmative government regulation,” said Commissioner Baker. “Lacking an evidentiary record of documented industry-wide abuses, the Commission’s Net Neutrality decision was based on speculative harms.”

The members and commissioners also disagreed with each other over whether a market failure had actually occurred.  Democrats and Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, along with Chairman Genachowski, all cited instances of formal complaints against ISPs violating the Commission’s 2005 open Internet principles.  Republicans, along with Commissioners McDowell and Baker called those incidences isolated and questioned that there was sufficient evidence of an overall market failure.

At times, the hearing devolved into a policy grilling on a panorama of issues before the FCC – some only marginally related to the Order itself.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) spent a significant portion of her allotted time focusing on why the Commission’s approval of the Comcast-NBC Universal merger took more than a year.  Several representatives posed questions regarding the Commission’s voluntary incentive auction proposals.

The only time, perhaps, that all the participants in the room were in agreement was when Commissioner McDowell extended a farewell to Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who will resign from Congress this month to head the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  McDowell thanked Harman for her years of service on the subcommittee, drawing a round of applause from the room.

Later in the afternoon, Rep. Walden, along with Energy and Commerce Committee Chair, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) introduced a Resolution of Disapproval to the House floor to overturn the Commission’s order.  Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee introduced identical legislation in the Senate.

A Resolution of Disapproval is a seldom-used Congressional maneuver that nullifies an action by an administrative agency – in this case, the FCC.  To take effect, both the House and Senate must pass the measure by a simple majority and the President must sign off on the action.

While the measure is filibuster-proof – a fact that both Reps. Upton and Walden were quick to point out – the filibuster is unlikely to be an issue. Even if the measure were to pass both houses of Congress, it would require a two-thirds majority to overcome a nearly certain veto from President Obama.

Jonathan began his career as a journalist before turning his focus to law and policy. He is an attorney licensed in Texas and the District of Columbia and has worked previously as a political reporter, in political campaign communications and on Capitol Hill. He holds a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Washington and a J.D. from Villanova Law School, where he focused his studies on Internet and intellectual property law and policy. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he roots for Seattle sports teams and plays guitar in his free time.

House of Representatives

Silicon Valley Rep. Anna Eshoo Will Not Seek Reelection

The lawmaker’s Silicon Valley seat will be open for the first time in decades.



Screenshot of Rep. Eshoo at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on October 19.

WASHINGTON, November 22, 2023 – Representative Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., announced on Tuesday that she will not seek reelection in 2024.

Eshoo’s retirement will leave up for grabs California’s 16th Congressional District, which includes Silicon Valley and parts of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The San José Spotlight reported that multiple local Democrats are eyeing the solid blue seat

Her departure will also open up a spot on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose purview includes telecommunications, tech and energy policy, public health, and food and drug safety.

The 80-year-old legislator was the first woman to represent her district and spent over 30 years in Congress. She sponsored bills on tech policy, including Section 230 changes and efforts to accelerate broadband build outs.

Eshoo touted her long legislative career in a video announcing her retirement, including 66 bills signed into law over five presidential administrations. 

“For three decades, you’ve given me your trust,” she said of her constituents. “I’ve given every fiber of my being to live up to that sacred trust.”

The lawmaker joins more than 30 lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have also announced plans to step down after their current terms. She will serve through January 2025.

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Experts Suggest Measures to Protect Affordable Connectivity Program at Senate Hearing

Under consideration: Opening the Universal Service Fund to contributions from broadband and Big Tech companies.



WASHINGTON, September 28, 2023 – A broadband association asked Congress last week to open the Universal Service Fund to contributions from broadband and Big Tech revenues to allow the umbrella fund to absorb and support the Affordable Connectivity Program.

The industry is concerned that the $14-billion ACP program, which discounts monthly services for low-income Americans and those on tribal lands, is going to run out of money by early next year. Meanwhile, it is universally agreed that the Universal Service Fund, which includes four high-cost broadband programs, is struggling to maintain its roughly $8-billion annual pace without a diversification of its revenue sources.

Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, told the Communications and Technology subcommittee studying the future of rural broadband on September 21 that Congress could both support the sustainability of the USF and the ACP by forcing contributions from broadband and Big Tech revenues.

The idea is that the extra revenue would solve the USF sustainability question by allowing the fund to continue to support the existing four programs under its purview, while also allowing it to adopt the ACP program, hence removing that program from reliance on Congress for money.

“We can have Congress give the FCC the authorities that it requires to be able to expand the contribution base, integrating the ACP within USF program, and thereby allowing the potentially out of control contribution factor that will potentially bog down the viability and longevity of the Universal Service Fund mechanisms to go down,” Spalter said.

“And in so doing it can expand the contribution base sufficiently to allow not only broadband but importantly the dominant Big Tech companies to participate so that we would effectively fuse the Affordable Connectivity Program with [high-cost program] Lifeline and do so in a way that would actually not require appropriated dollars from Congress.”

The ACP currently has around 21 million Americans signed up, but the FCC says many more are eligible. The commission has been allocating money to outreach groups to market the subsidy program.

While some have argued that the Federal Communications Commission could unilaterally expand the contribution base of the USF, the commission has elected to wait for Congress to make the requisite legislative reforms to give it that authority.

Forcing Big Tech companies, which rely on the internet to deliver their products, has been an idea tossed around by experts and promoted by Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr. Meanwhile, forcing broadband revenues to contribute to the fund has also received good support.

The concern for the ACP program is that the internet service providers rely on the $14 billion to continue to offer discounts.

“With funding set to be depleted early next year, initial notices of service termination could be out during the height of the holiday season in December – that’s a present none of our constituents deserve to receive,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-Calif.  

“Poverty is everywhere, but higher in rural America, in our region the reason most people can’t adopt service is due to lack of affordability, this impacts more households than lack of infrastructure alone,” said Sara Nichols, senior planner of the Land of Sky Regional Council of Government.

“It’s a program we simply can’t afford to lose,” added Nichols.

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Rural Utilities Service

White House Nominates Basil Gooden as Rural Development Chief at USDA

Gooden would be responsible for overseeing the activities of the Rural Utilities Services, an important broadband funding agency.



Photo of Basil Gooden from Virginia Tech's web site.

WASHINGTON, September 11, 2023 – The White House on Monday announced the nomination of Basil Gooden for Under Secretary of Agriculture for Rural Development in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack touted the nomination in a statement, saying that Gooden “is a widely-respected, accomplished champion for affordable housing, community advancement, and economic development. His public service career is informed by a lifelong commitment to agriculture and rural development.”

Gooden is the current director of state operations for rural development at USDA.

If confirmed for the position, Gooden would be responsible for overseeing the activities of the Rural Utilities Services, which encompasses the Water and Environment Programs, the Electric Program, and the Telecommunications Program, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for rural Americans through providing funds to deploy rural telecommunications infrastructure.

The administration may seek additional funding for broadband through the department. RUS Administrator Andy Berke, the former mayor of Chatanooga, Tenn., who also served as a Commerce Department official with the title, “special representative for broadband.”

Running USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Isn’t Andy Berke’s First Act in Broadband

If selected for the position, Gooden would fill the void left behind by Xochitl Torres Small, who resigned from the role and was later confirmed by the Senate as deputy secretary of agriculture this past July.

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