The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will meet again on Tuesday to continue hashing out which amendments will be attached to the Communications, Consumers Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, before the bill goes to the Senate floor.
Members on Thursday debated various sticking points, including states rights, the Universal Service Fund, funding for first responders and net neutrality. None of the senators contested the provision to streamline video franchising rules. On the whole, few conclusions were reached and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the committees chairman, scheduled another markup hearing for June 27 at 10 a.m.
The committee did vote to make $1 billion available for first responders by Oct. 1, 2006. The funds will provide firefighters, police and medical personnel with radio equipment so they can communicate with one another if there is another terrorist attack such as the one on Sept. 11, 2001, and first responders learned their equipment was not interoperable or a disaster such as another Hurricane Katrina.
Up to $250 million of the $1 billion would be distributed to each state and the federal government to establish caches of emergency communications equipment. The federal funds would be granted to Federal Emergency Management Agency regional offices around the country.
The majority of the remaining $750 million would be allocated based on threat and risk, with the rest divided among the 50 states for emergency equipment and training.
One of the biggest areas of controversy was the issue of preemption of states rights when it comes to any federal telecom legislation. In a statement, the National Governors Association said governors oppose any amendments that would preempt or interfere with the ability of states to craft meaningful telecommunications tax reforms or balance state budgets, including pending amendments that would prematurely extend the internet access moratorium and restrict other existing state telecommunications taxes.
Senators went back and forth over states rights, but again, did not settle on a compromise.
There are more than 213 amendments proposed for S.2686, introduced in early May by Stevens. The bill has been modified three times most recently on June 19 and has received nationwide attention mostly for its lack of net neutrality oversight. Various consumers and advocacy groups, as well as members of Congress, are trying to get the government to ensure providers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. cannot decide whether one users Web traffic get delivered faster than another. Those groups also want to be sure providers cannot block access to or charge extra for Web sites such as Amazon.com or Google Inc.
The net neutrality provision could hinder the Stevens bill from getting past the Senate before Congress recesses for its summer break and to prepare for mid-term elections. Indeed, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., still plan to introduce an amendment on net neutrality another possible holdup on the bills progress.
During the hearing, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the Commerce Committees ranking Democrat, said finding a way for everyone to agree on changes to the telecom bill is a formidable task that will truly test the limits of our patience.
AT&T Inc. www.att.com
Google Inc. www.google.com
National Governors Association www.nga.org
Senate Commerce Committee http://commerce.senate.gov/public
Verizon Communications Inc. www.verizon.com
For more information on net neutrality, click over to the Net Neutrality & Fair Use e-book, sponsored by Network Insight. The publication includes a rundown on current legislation, a Q&A with Network Insights CEO Chris Pond and more!
Click here to download.