Ensign Seeks to Reform Telecom Law, Incumbents Embrace Bill

In a move to revamp the nations telecom laws, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) today introduced The Broadband Consumer Choice Act of 2005, which incumbent associations and carriers immediately lauded.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is the bills co-sponsor.

It is time to restore Americas status as a leader in the field of global communication technology and to improve burdensome and outdated government regulations for the benefit of consumers nationwide, Ensign said at a press conference this morning. Americans ingenuity and creativity can provide more choices for consumers if government bureaucrats will get out of the way and allow our companies to compete.

The bill seeks to rewrite the Telecommunications Act of 1996; since that legislation, there have been dramatic changes in the industry, technology and marketplace requiring Congress to revisit the communications policy of the nation, Ensigns bill reads. The text calls for eradication of the requirement that video service providers get a cable franchise agreement to provide video service. It also sets federal consumer protection standards, which Ensign says would ensure timely, quality carrier service. The legislation further assures consumer access to Internet phone service, Ensign says.

We must not allow government regulations to be an anchor on the advance of technology if we want America to lead the world in the information age, Ensign said in a news release. This bill will create jobs, stimulate the economy, and increase consumer choice.

The association that promotes competition among communications providers CompTel however, warned against the bills passage. The bill is a gigantic step backward, said Earl Comstock, president and CEO of CompTel, in a news release. It would remonopolize communications networks resulting in fewer choices, less innovation and higher prices for consumers. The American economy would suffer as a result. Nascent technologies, such as VoIP, would be killed in the cradle under this regime because entrepreneurs would be denied the nondiscriminatory access to infrastructure they need to deliver their cutting-edge products and services.”

But the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) praised the proposed legislation. The organizations leaders, in a joint news release, said the bill represents a first step toward ensuring all segments of the telecommunications industry make the same commitment to serving their rural markets that NTCA members have made for decades.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and USTelecom expressed similar sentiments. In a press statement, TIA President Matthew Flanigan said, TIA especially supports the goal of establishing a firm foundation that is forward-looking in encouraging competition, investment, innovation and the deployment of next-generation technologies across all segments of the industry.

As wireless, landline, cable and satellite technologies converge, it is time for government-managed competition to be replaced with market-based competition, where consumers can get the products and services they want from the companies they choose, said Walter McCormick Jr., president and CEO of USTelecom, in a prepared statement.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) calls the act a piece of pro-technology legislation that will advance the deployment of innovative broadband communications services. President and CEO Gary Shapiro in a statement said, a free-market approach will spur a revolution of new and competitive voice, data and video services.

Echoing the other ILEC associations, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) calls the Ensign bill an important step toward reforming, in its words, our outdated telecommunications law.

Advocates of deregulation could argue that it doesnt go far enough to deregulate the industry, said Braden Cox, technology counsel. However, stripping away government regulation from the overregulated telecommunications sector will take time. This bill provides some relief to an industry that desperately needs it and keeps open the opportunity for future reform.

Meanwhile, BellSouth Corp. says the Ensign proposal would bring telecommunications law up to date, benefiting consumers. When enacted, this bill will enhance the deployment of broadband, bring more jobs and investment. It will speed the deployment of competitive video services and provide, at last, vibrant competition in video, said Herschel Abbott, BellSouths vice president of governmental affairs, in a news release. Technology will flourish and consumers will be the winners.

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