White Responds to FCC Internet Report
Press Release of Rep. Rick White (R-WA)
Washington, D.C. - Representative Rick White (R-First Dist.) praised the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) for taking a "thoughtful" approach to regulating the Internet, but repeated his belief that the Commission should not impose regulation meant for the telephone system on Internet services. On April 10 the FCC issued a report on application of the Telecommunication Act of 1996 to the universal service fund and the Internet. White served on the conference committee for the 1996 Act and founded the Congressional Internet Caucus. "I'm glad the Commission acknowledged that it doesn't have enough facts to act now on making Internet providers pay access charges or universal service fees," White said. "I hope the Commission will abandon these ideas when it takes a closer look. But usually when a government agency says it plans to consider something, that means it wants to do it but hasn't figured out how."
White expressed particular concern about two aspects of the report. The first was the FCC's suggestion that it would consider requiring Internet providers who invest in their own transmission networks (rather than leasing capacity from other telecommunications providers) to pay into the universal service fund, even though the service they provide to customers is not subject to the universal service provisions of the 1996 Act. "We shouldn't discourage new investment in our technology infrastructure," White said. "The services of the future will depend upon a network that can deliver them."
In addition, White was troubled by the Commission's statements on Internet telephony - transmitting voice signals over the Internet. "Today's Internet telephony is merely a precursor to dramatic value added services that will be available in the future," White said. "The Internet will allow us to combine voice conversations with video or graphics, providing a completely new kind of service. We shouldn't jeopardize that future by forcing the Internet into a framework designed for copper wire telephones."
The FCC report acknowledged that Internet services are "information services" under the 1996 Act, removing them from the regulatory system that covers "telecommunications." Part of the definition of "telecommunications" is that the information is transmitted "without changing the form or content of the information." Internet transmissions change the form of information when it is broken into packets and routed through the Internet. In the case of Internet telephony, the content is also changed. Systems must guess what tones to fill in for lost data because the system cannot wait to recover that information, so what the receiver hears is actually a reconstructed version of what the sender said.
In its report, the FCC advanced a tentative definition of Internet telephony that would classify the service as telecommunications. "The commission has tried to classify Internet telephony as telecommunications by adding to the definition," White said. "Where Congress said, 'without change,' the Commission has read 'without net change.' The FCC may prefer that definition, but they don't get to rewrite the law. The distinction in the Act wasn't whether or not the information appears the same to the user but whether it is changed during transmission - and Internet telephony involves changes during transmission."
White said the FCC's threat to regulate the Internet was the kind of situation that prompted him to introduce his Internet Protection Act, H.R. 2372. "The Internet Protection Act would help the Internet thrive and ensure that we reap the full benefits of new technology," White said. "It blocks regulation of the Internet unless Congress finds it is needed. That is a far better approach than forcing the Internet into a preconceived set of regulations. The bill also recognizes that new competitive industries can help expand competition in regulated fields, bringing greater innovation to play for everyone's benefit."