House Republican Efforts To Curb FCC Authority Mirror Cable Industry Lobbying

A bill introduced to the House of Representatives on Wednesday evening by Rep. Bob Latta would “limit” the FCC’s ability to regulate the telecom industry by prohibiting it from classifying broadband as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act.

Latta’s argument against regulating broadband as a public utility is that it would create “uncertainty,” reducing the incentives that cable providers and telecommunications companies have to further invest in their infrastructures.

From his statement on Wednesday:

My legislation will provide all participants in the Internet ecosystem the certainty they need to continue investing in broadband networks and services that have been fundamental for job creation, productivity and consumer choice. […]

Reclassification would heap 80 years of regulatory baggage on broadband providers, restricting their flexibility to innovate and placing them at the mercy of a government agency. These businesses thrive on dynamism and the ability to evolve quickly to shifting market and consumer forces. Subjecting them to bureaucratic red tape won’t promote innovation, consumer welfare or the economy, and I encourage my House colleagues to support this legislation, so we can foster continued innovation and investment within the broadband marketplace.

This mirrors the language used by Comcast and the rest of the cable industry in their lobbying of the FCC.

In a letter to the FCC arguing against a Title II reclassification on Wednesday, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which represents a number of large cable providers including Comcast, Charter, and Time Warner, compared the potential outcome of a reclassification to the United States’ vastly underfunded public infrastructure:

Indeed, in other contexts where the government has imposed public utility-style regulation, such an approach has led to chronic under-investment in basic infrastructure. One need only examine our nation’s ailing public infrastructure to appreciate the potential dangers to the continued expansion and growth of broadband networks. The contrast is striking when one compares the crisis in public utility infrastructure with the dynamism and stable investment in broadband Internet services.

In a separate letter to the FCC from May 12, Comcast also focused on the “disruptive” effect reclassification would have on investment:

Any effort to upend that settled legal framework—which has been supported by Commissions and Administrations led by both parties—would be enormously disruptive: It would deter the many billions in additional investment required to connect all Americans and to continue increasing speeds, while subjecting the industry and the Commission to years of debilitating litigation and resulting uncertainty. Just ten years ago, the Commission and the Department of Justice expressly recognized these risks and went to considerable lengths to avoid the imposition of common carrier regulation precisely because “[t]he effect of the increased regulatory burdens” likely would have been to prompt ISPs to “postpone or forego plans to deploy new broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural or other underserved areas.”

It’s difficult to predict what effect reclassifying broadband under Title II would actually have on infrastructure investment across the telecom industry. As Pando’s Nathaniel Mott pointed out this morning, it should also be noted that Rep. Latta has received a significant amount of campaign funds from the “cable & satellite TV production & distribution” sector.

According to research by Maplight, Latta received $51,000 in contributions in 2012-2013 from companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, nearly five times more than the $11,651 average received from the sector by members of the House of Representatives.