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ACA Cautions FCC On Impact Of Reclassification On Small Access Providers

The American Cable Association is urging the Federal Communications Commission to recognize that classification of broadband Internet access as a common carrier service would not only represent an abrupt change in policy but also impose substantial regulatory burdens and costs, impairing ACA members from expanding their broadband offerings.

ACA's concerns stem from FCC proposals that would abandon a "light touch" regulatory approach toward broadband access providers in favor of policies that would regulate broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communication Act -- provisions that historically applied to traditional phone companies in response to their status starting many years ago as monopoly providers of an essential service.

On September 14, an ACA team discussed the trade group's policy positions in a meeting with FCC General Counsel Austin Schlick and Deputy General Counsel Julie Veach in addition to two staff members from the General Counsel's Office. Representing ACA were Vice President of Government Affairs Ross J. Lieberman and attorney Barbara Esbin of Cinnamon Mueller, ACA's outside counsel.

Lieberman and Esbin explained that Title II common carrier regulation, as outlined by the FCC, would open a Pandora's Box of harms to providers, from escalating pole attachment fees to possibly higher franchise fees, state and local taxes, and possibly a steady stream of rate complaints filed at the FCC by consumers.

Other likely harms, the ACA pair said, would involve significantly increased FCC filing and reporting requirements, and a plethora of related compliance burdens, including those associated with regulatory assessments, such as Universal Service Fund contributions.

ACA's advocates stressed that before the FCC departs from its "light touch" approach, the agency had a legal duty under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Regulatory Flexibility Act to identify disproportionate economic impacts on small providers and assess means of minimizing those impacts.

ACA's call for procedural protections came in response to the FCC's apparent desire to reclassify broadband without conducting a formal rulemaking. As a result, ACA has asked the FCC to conduct a rulemaking prior to changing the regulatory status of broadband Internet service and/or stay the effectiveness of any reclassification decision until it can complete the rulemaking proceedings.

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