The NAACP, Urban League, United Church of Christ, ACLU and others have called on Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski to focus on four "key goals" of the National Broadband Plan, and suggested it would need to clarify its broadband oversight authority before it can achieve them.
In a letter to the chairman, a copy of which was supplied to reporters, the group said the FCC should hone in on expansion of the Universal Service Fund, transparency and truth in billing, protecting online privacy and Internet access for the disabled.
But to do that, they said the FCC needs to proceed with the original plan to clarify its authority after that power was called into question by the BitTorrent case, they wrote.
"While legislation might be one route to achieving this objective, we urge the Commission to move forward expeditiously to adopt a legally justifiable regulatory framework to enact the broadband plan."
In some sense, the letter is preaching to the choir. For example: The FCC is expected to launch a revamp of the Universal Service Fund by the end of the year, and just this week achieved a $25 million settlement with Verizon relating to its broadband billing practices.
The letter also came the same day the chairman spoke to a Rainbow/PUSH broadband seminar about the importance of migrating universal service funds from phone to Internet.
And FCC general counsel Austin Schlick said last spring that the BitTorrent decision could affect its authority to implement parts of the plan, including deployment, disabled access, transparency and privacy.
But whether the chairman proceeds with clarifying broadband oversight before Congress weighs in, as the groups suggest, is less clear.
The FCC is working on various scenarios, including reclassifying broadband under some Title II common carrier regulations and finding authority under its current Title I information service classification. But the chairman has also encouraged stakeholders to come to agreement on a legislative option that would provide clear direction from Congress.
That is partly driven by the pushback from Congress on his Title II proposal, or so-called "third way."
Republican House members en masse, and something like a quarter of the Democrats, advised him to back off that plan and get marching orders from Congress. If Republicans take over the House in the midterm elections, the pressure not to take unilateral action will only increase.
NAACP and company said they were concerned that the focus on the broadband plan objectives had gotten lost in the net neutrality debate, and that it would be impossible for the FCC to meet those key broadband goals ASAP "without the re-establishment of clear FCC authority to regulate in these critical areas."
Also signing on to the call for action were the American Association of People with Disabilities, Asian American Justice Center, Benton Foundation, Communications Workers of America, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Consumers League, NOW, Privacy International, Privacy Lives, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Privacy Times.