Stevens Introduces 135-Page Telecom Reform Bill, Glosses Over Net Neutrality

Culminating months of hearings on the details germane to a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Sen. Ted Stevens on Monday introduced his proposal for telecom reform.

The 135-page working draft dubbed the Communications, Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 addresses U.S. broadband deployment, changes to video franchising requirements, the Universal Service Fund (USF), digital TV and net neutrality.

Stevens, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has been the lead figure in telecom rewrite efforts. When he introduced the bill on the Senate floor on Monday, he said fixing the USF is his highest goal. Stevens represents Alaska, the state that receives the most USF proceeds. The legislation would authorize the FCC to adopt a contribution mechanism based on revenue, numbers or connections.

FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin supports the numbers-based system, rather than the current revenue-based system, or the proposal that the government levy charges based on the number of connections whether Internet, landline or cable per household.

Stevens bill also makes way for a separate broadband fund that would go toward unserved areas. It further provides for improvements to the E-rate program for American Indians.

Then, citing concern about lackluster broadband deployment, Stevens said his bill will allow local governments to offer high-speed Internet services, so long as they do not compete unfairly with the private sector.

The act also supports revision of the video franchising process, allowing telcos to enter a cable-dominated arena.

Additionally, a cable company can avail itself of the new streamlined rules after its current franchise agreement expires. Stevens explained, adding the legislation preserves cities rights to manage their public rights-of-way.

Finally, the Stevens bill touches on net neutrality, a hotly contested issue in and outside of the Beltway. The act merely calls for the FCC to report to the Senate annually on development in Internet traffic delivery. The remainder of the 17 lines of net neutrality text reads, If the Commission determines that there are significant problems with any of the matters described the Commission shall make such recommendations in its next annual report as it deems necessary and appropriate to ensure that consumers can access lawful content and run Internet applications and services over the public Internet subject to the bandwidth purchased and the needs of law enforcement agencies. The Commission shall include recommendations for appropriate enforcement mechanisms but may not recommend additional rulemaking authority for the Commission.

Democrat Daniel Inouye of Hawaii co-sponsored the Communications, Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act, but said in a prepared statement putting his name on the bill does not mean he supports it.

I have numerous, substantive objections to the bill in its current form, he said.

Starting last January, Stevens, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, held dozens of hearings on issues ranging from the USF and net neutrality to video franchising and the FCC. Over the past several months, a number of senators and representatives have introduced their own ideas for telecom reform, and Stevens indicated he is working to pull them all together so we can have one communications act for this year. This will be the Communications Act of 2006.

The Communications, Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act has been submitted for comments and will be sent to the Senate Commerce Committee.

U.S. Senate


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