FCC Chief Tries to Sell Cable Industry on Broadband Regulation

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski today at the Cable Show defended the agency’s plans to reclassify broadband. In an interview with NCTA President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow, Genachowski pitched the commission’s “Third Way” for regulation, attempting to assure the audience of cable industry executives that the FCC would continue to operate in good faith.

The need for a new regulatory position comes after a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in early April that the agency had overstepped its authority in regulating broadband. To maintain its ability to implement net neutrality and aspects of the National Broadband Plan, the FCC is seeking to classify the transport aspect of broadband as a telecommunications service (like the phones lines) subject to more stringent rules. However, the FCC plans to exempt ISPs from most of the rules through a process known as forbearance.

While the Comcast (s cmcsa) ruling was clearly a setback, Genachowski said today that the commission was committed to the National Broadband Plan and network neutrality. “There’s nothing that’s happened in the past few weeks that changes one iota of our policy goals…that the commission and I have been articulating for many months now,” he said. “The court decision didn’t question any of those goals, but it damaged the legal foundation underneath [them].”

“Promoting the deployment and promotion of broadband is our central mission for the 21st century, and the court raised very serious questions about whether we can do that in the future,” he added. According the FCC chief, the problem that faces the agency now is, “How do we get back to a solid legal foundation that lets the agency do what it needs to do around broadband?”

Genachowski said that the commission planned to reject both extremes — both the “do-nothing extreme,” where it would give up on regulating broadband, as well as the other extreme, in which it would forge ahead with all regulations and “apply them to the full broadband universe.” Instead, he said the FCC seeks to take a more narrow and tailored approach to regulation, ensuring that it places barriers against regulatory creep and also against regulatory overreach, in an effort to get back to where it was before the Comcast decision came down.

As part of his assurances to McSlarrow, Genachowski said that rate regulation, wholesale unbundling and reselling are off the table, and that the commission is “going to rely on competitive markets.” But the NCTA CEO asked how the industry could be sure that a future commissioner wouldn’t act differently, and not forebear on certain more onerous regulations. In his response, Genachowski said that there has never been an “unforbearance,” and that furthermore, the FCC’s proposed “Third Way” is modeled on a regulatory approach that has already worked for a number of years.