Stevens Bill Gets a Makeover

Sen. Ted Stevens, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, has made some key revisions to his telecom reform bill. The proposed legislation The Communications, Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006 has ballooned from its initial 135 to 151 pages, but still contains controversial net neutrality provisions or, rather, a lack thereof.

Documents obtained by PHONE+ show that Stevens, a Republican representing Alaska, has made changes in a number of areas, but that he offered few revisions to placate groups and fellow lawmakers opposed to the absence of wording that would ensure the openness of the Internet. In response, Stevens Democratic counterpart, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, has issued a draft bill that would go farther than Stevens proposal. Under the revised draft, released earlier this week, Stevens would require the FCC to study the Internet market for five years and give Congress annual reports on broadband providers activities. Inouye, on the other hand, wants to impose strict requirements on the broadband providers directly, as opposed to having the FCC address any complaints.

Other changes in Stevens bill include an extension of the time municipalities must review applications for companies to offer video services in those cities. The initial time frame was 15 days. Cities now must issue a public notice within 15 days of receiving an application, but have up to 75 days to approve or deny the petition. Officials were concerned the original time period would not give them enough time to hold meetings and conduct reviews.

Stevens revised draft also was expanded to allow public safety equipment to use 700MHz radios as well as devices that are interoperable with systems that use the so-called reallocated DTV spectrum. Public safety officials also had feared the first draft limited agencies ability to use IP-compatible equipment. That provision has been clarified to state that agencies can buy equipment and systems that promote interoperability by using Internet protocols.

Of great concern to advocates of low-income citizens was a USF provision imposing additional charges on all users. Stevens has bolstered the language in his bill to allow the FCC to authorize discounts for low-volume, low-income users, such as people on fixed incomes. Senate Commerce Committee members also included language in the revised bill that protects carriers from making double contributions to the USF. Some lawmakers feared the initial language could mean carriers would get charged twice, once for the broadband connection and then again for the VoIP service consumers use to make calls.

The altered Stevens bill also added language to keep federal funds from being used for municipal broadband projects.

Senate Commerce Committee

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