Copps Urges Caution as Lawmakers Weigh Communications Act Overhaul

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  • Dale Eisman

Congress should be wary of plans to overhaul the 18-year-old federal law governing broadcasters and telecommunications companies and should focus first on making the existing law work as its authors intended, former Federal Communications Commission member Michael Copps said today.

In testimony prepared for a House subcommittee, Copps, special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, argued that much of the current Communications Act remains “relevant, workable, and consumer-friendly.” And in today’s partisan Congress, building support for a rewritten law “will be even more challenging than the jockeying that gave birth to the current law,” he cautioned.

Copps complained that major players in the communications industry have “spent more time undermining the statute than implementing it.” Those efforts continue, he said, citing Verizon’s federal appeals court victory on Tuesday in a lawsuit challenging the FCC’s “Open Internet””rules.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia cleared the way for Internet providers like Verizon and Comcast to restructure their Internet services by imposing extra fees for access to popular websites and applications. Common Cause has urged the commission to respond to that decision by writing new rules, tied to a different section of the Communications Act, which would restore net neutrality.

“Some will tell you that America is a veritable broadband wonderland, a triumph of free market entrepreneurship that puts us at the forefront of high-tech nations,” Copps told the lawmakers. But the U.S. has fallen to 16th worldwide in wired broadband connections per 100 residents and American consumers are paying more and getting less than wired broadband consumers in competitor countries, he said.

Copps added that the Justice Department has concluded that the local wireless marketplace offers consumers few choices and that mobile data plans are saddled with data caps that harm both consumption and innovation.

“Surely the time is now for proactive and pro-consumer measures to make quality broadband universally affordable once and for all,” he said.