WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Democratic lawmakers said on Monday they will hold a series of meetings starting in June to discuss proposals to revamp the U.S. communications law as regulators set a course on broadband oversight.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said they will invite stakeholders to participate in “bipartisan, issue-focused” meetings.
The announcement comes as the Federal Communications Commission is about to takes steps to regulate high-speed Internet, with a pledge to retain a light regulatory touch.
The FCC plans to regulate broadband access as a telecommunications service — instead of as an information service — but said the industry should trust that it will not apply the most burdensome price controls and competition mandates that come with that framework.
A U.S. appeals court ruling in April forced the agency to revamp its Internet authority. The court found that the FCC had failed to show it had the authority to stop Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O) from blocking online applications that distributed television shows and other bandwidth-hogging files.
Internet providers were pessimistic about the legal foundation of the FCC’s latest approach and some predicted it would delay the agency’s National Broadband Plan, unveiled last month to expand access and boost Internet speeds.
The big phone and broadband companies like AT&T Inc (T.N) and Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) have expressed concern with the FCC move despite assurances. They are likely to challenge the agency in court.
Wireless products and services are also likely to be a major focus of the discussions as demand increases from consumers for Internet access and videos on smartphones and other mobile handsets.
Last week, the FCC for the first time since 2002 omitted the term “effective competition” from its annual wireless industry report, a situation one senior regulator blamed on industry consolidation and concentration.
The lack of the phrase could set the stage for U.S. regulators to impose policies and regulations to increase competition and help shape the terms of the next set of major auctions on spectrum for an industry largely dominated by AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp (S.N) and Deutsche Telekom AG’s (DTEGn.DE) T-Mobile USA unit.
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group Plc (VOD.L).
In their joint statement, Rockefeller and Waxman, along with the respective chairmen of the relevant subcommittees, Senator John Kerry and Representative Rick Boucher, said the topics of discussion and other details will be announced soon.
Reporting by John Poirier, editing by Leslie Gevirtz.