Battle Looming to Reform the Law

AT&T Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. are among the giants gearing up for a battle on Capitol Hill over reform of telecommunications laws.

Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are expected to study such issues as Internet phone service, taxes and universal service subsidies as part of a sweeping examination of the current law, advances in technology and other fundamental changes in the phone and Internet markets over the last nine years.

During a panel moderated by CompTel/ASCENT Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel Robert McDowell, experts from AT&T Corp., Stanton Park Group and XO Communications Inc. will share their perspectives on the pending congressional battle.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who is the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, likely will play a starring role in overseeing reform of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) also is expected to be involved.

There is going to be a good deal of education and fact finding, particularly in the Senate, says Peter Jacoby, vice president of congressional affairs with AT&T. I think they want to make sure they understand what the right thing is before they move forward.

The House may be on a faster pace to introduce legislation this year. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, is expected to hold hearings this winter before introducing legislation later in the season or in the spring.

My hypothesis [is] the purpose of the hearings will be to underscore how technology may have outpaced the law, McDowell says.

The House is aiming to vote on a piece of legislation before the August recess, according to some pundits in Washington.

Other influences outside of the House and Senate could influence drastically the scope of the legislation, including the input of the Bush administration and the pace at which the top U.S. telecom regulator revises rules to harmonize the old world of circuit-switched telecommunications with such new technology as Internet phone service.

The FCC already is moving forward to revise the complex multibillion-dollar system governing payments between carriers to complete calls and write Internet Protocol regulations, among other projects.

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