'Yellow Light' Democrats Weigh In On Net Neutality
72 Party Representatives Send Letter Asking FCC Chairman Genachowski To Proceed With Caution
John Eggerton 10/16/2009 2:44:31 PM

While not quite the red flags raised by Republicans, a group of 72 Democratic House members have sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that is something of a flashing caution light on network neutrality.

The letter does not include big names from the Energy & Commerce Committee or Communications Subcommittee, but the signatures are from some familiar names, including former Redskin quarterback Heath Schuler of Tennessee, Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas and Mike Ross of Arkansas.

The list has a large contingent of fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, but they have joined with others to become a group of "Yellow Light" Democrats urging the chairman to tread cautiously in the area of network openness regulation.

There are also members of the Congressional Black Caucus, The Urban League and other several other minority groups have already weighed in with their concerns that, as applied, network neutrality might not be applied neutrally to their constituencies.

According to a copy of the letter, the Democrats urged the commission to "carefully consider the full range of potential consequences of government action," and caution against a too heavy regulatory regime. "[I]t is our strong belief that continued progress in expanding the reach and capabilities of broadband networks will require the commission to reiterate, not repudiate, its historic commitment to competition, private investment, and a restrained regulatory approach."

Putting the term network neutrality in quotes in their letter, the Dems wrote: "[W]e remain suspicious of conclusions based on slogans rather than substance and policies that restrict and inhibit the very innovation and growth that we all seek to achieve."

The list of governors warning against disincentives to investment from network neutrality regulation has also swelled to almost a dozen according to quotes supplied by a representative of one ISP also concerned about the proposal.

Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn had another name for the legislators, Blue Bell Democrats (as in phone companies).

"It's a pity that 72 members of the Blue Dog Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus are deserting one of the fundamental planks of President Obama's platform -- a free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet. The people who those members of Congress represent are the most at risk from the closed, controlling Internet that the phone and cable companies want....In parroting the misinformation put forward by the big telecom companies, the Blue Bell Caucus only condemns their constituents to inferior service and limited opportunities to succeed in an Internet-based economy."

Noted Free Press policy director Ben Scott: "We want to remind members of Congress and the other lawmakers that have come out of the woodwork this week to question net neutrality that the benefits of a free and open Internet to free speech, economic innovation and democratic participation are absolutely invaluable to their constituents in the digital age. Further, this is merely the beginning of a process, not the end. Their concerns are precisely the kind of issues that the FCC is prepared to debate and discuss in its rulemaking. It should move forward as planned...This is a case of special interests versus real Americans. More than 1.6 million Americans have called for an open Internet, and their numbers are growing every day. "

Genachowski, with the backing of the other two Democrats on the commission, next week plans to propose adding nondiscrimination and consumer information principals to the four existing network openness guidelines as well as codify them into rules and apply them to the wireless industry.

The chairman has also said that will not come before there is opportunity for public input, and with an open mind, as well as open access, to how the proposal is drafted and ultimately crafted, though commission Republicans are said to have felt insufficiently consulted on the draft proposal currently before them.