Verizon demands Congress reform U.S. telecom laws

Verizon may have raised the hackles of consumer advocates when it teamed with Google to proposal a new regulatory framework for network neutrality, but now the company is going one step further on its own, calling for Congress to engage in a complete rewrite of telecommunications law that doesn’t just focus on regulating the behavior of telecommunications providers—the companies that control the pipes—but on companies that make operating systems and applications as well.

Speaking at a panel at the Federalist Society’s national conference in Washington D.C., Verizon’s executive VP for public affairs, policy, and communications Tom Tauke criticized the FCC’s focus on ISPs blocking or degrading Internet traffic while ignoring other areas of the market where similar consumer harm could take place—namely, applications and operating system software.

“A key reason why the FCC doesn’t consider the activities of those who control operating systems or applications is that the FCC looks at the world from the standpoint of its jurisdiction rather than from the perspective of the consumer,” Tauke said.

Before joining Verizon, Tauke was a Republican congressmen representing northeast Iowa from 1979 to 1991.

Tauke proposed that Congress overall telecommunications law, establishing a federal framework that eschews “anticipatory rulemaking” in favor of general principles that would enable case-by-case adjudication as new technologies and applications come to market, with the key measure being whether a practice or application harms consumers or competitiveness. Tauke called for a single federal agency to have clear jurisdiction over the matters, taking into account both security and consumer privacy.

“”The grinding you hear are the gears churning as policymakers try to fit fast-changing technologies and competitive markets into regulatory boxes built for analog technologies and monopoly markets,” Tauke said. “[We] need Congress to replace the current statute with one that is in sync with today’s communications technology and marketplace.”

Tauke also called for revision to the federally-mandated universal service fund that subsidizes universal access to communication technologies.

Tauke’s proposal for rewriting the Telecom Act could have some upsides: for one thing, it would establish a clear authority for a federal agency to regulate telecommunications and the Internet, eliminating the near-complete uncertainty surround the FCC’s ability to regulate the Internet or ISPs in the wake of its defeat at the hands of Comcast over P2P blocking. The FCC has attempted to re-assert a similar regulatory authorty by leveraging other aspects of telecommunications law, but this “third way” remains untested and has not been strongly embraced by either the telecommunications industry or consumer advocates.

On the other hand, the current combative political climate in Washington D.C. means any effort to forge ahead with new telecommunications legislation will likely be a long-term project, punctuated by partisan maneuvering and (of course) quietly influenced by corporate lobbying.

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