The Bells dont hide their position that they are burdened with far too many phone and Internet rules during an era of vibrant competition. They are lobbying powerhouses before Congress, the FCC and state regulators among other government agencies to demand further deregulation of the market.
But some of their rivals allege the countrys biggest local phone companies crossed the line by planning a stealth operation during the fall to abolish regulations possibly in violation of antitrust laws.
The CompTel/ASCENT Alliance has asked the House and Senate judiciary committees, and state attorney generals, to investigate claims the Bells violated antitrust laws by plotting a $40 million fundraising campaign with big-name equipment makers to put an end to the regulations they vociferously oppose.
The Bells grouse the current regulations stymie the capital investment the industry, including equipment makers such as Cisco Systems Inc, Lucent Technologies Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp., sorely needs.
The United States Telecom Association, the trade group representing the Bells, insists there was nothing illegal about an October dinner meeting in Washington, D.C, or a related memo outlining their lobbying plans.
Either way, the developments underscore the growing acrimony between the Bells and CLECs in the face of an uncertain regulatory environment pundits say the FCC cant fix by itself. Congress ultimately will need to resolve some important telecom issues, many experts say.
Today, the CompTel/ASCENT Alliance offers a general session to discuss what the Bells have been doing to step up their lobbying campaigns, and how the alliance and its members are countering those efforts.
Scheduled speakers include Dan Gonzalez, senior legal advisor to FCC commissioner Kevin Martin; Robert McDowell, senior vice president and assistant general counsel, CompTel/ASCENT Alliance; Dan Moffat, president and CEO, New Edge Networks; and Donna Sorgi, vice president, federal advocacy, MCI.
It is unclear what formal action, if any, the government will take in response to the allegations the CompTel/ASCENT Alliance and its members have levied against the Bells.
Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee, told PHONE+ magazine House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) says the activity is protected by the First Amendment, therefore the committee did not plan to open a formal inquiry into the allegations.
H. Russell Frisby Jr., CEO of the CompTel/ASCENT Alliance, also told PHONE+ it appeared the Bells at least were demanding rebates from equipment makers to promote their lobbying campaigns against CLECs. "What happens if an equipment maker doesn’t agree to participate? Does it [mean the] Bells stop buying equipment from that manufacturer? Frisby says even if the government does not find the Bells violated any antitrust laws, the meeting was "at least unseemly.