Midterm Elections Could Change Regulatory Landscape

Washington is a tense place to be right now, said one panelist during COMPTEL’s legislative update session on Monday. With the midterm elections just a few weeks away, everyone in telecom is on tenterhooks, waiting to see who will lead House and Senate committees that guide communications law. If the Democrats win in November, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and the House and Senate Commerce Committees, all will have new leaders. That likely would lead to a revamping of the rewrite that has waited for a Senate vote since this summer, or it could mean throwing out the proposed bill altogether. Matters of contention include net neutrality and whether Congress should impose a national video franchising system, a change the Bells have spent millions of dollars lobbying to achieve.

Telecom further is not a Republican-versus-Democrat subject, said COMPTEL President and CEO Earl Comstock. “The idea that this is a partisan issue is a mistake,” he said. “Our biggest issue is the messaging,” he added, explaining the competitive industry needs to outline its agenda clearly and band together to fight for it.

In the meantime — as well as after the elections — competitive carriers should be talking to their representatives, said Pete Leon, COMPTEL’s new vice president of legislative affairs (he replaced Robert McDowell, who now serves as an FCC commissioner). To prove that point, Leon scrolled through a slideshow of hot races around the country and showed which CLECs are based in those states. Politicians “should know who you are, and I don’t think they do,” he said.

Fellow panelists Patrick Thompson, vice president of legislative affairs for Covad Communications Inc., and Comstock, added that CLEC execs should push for meetings with their state representatives, so they can impress upon them the importance of a competitive industry. And, the panelists noted, even though there is an ever-dwindling chance a telecom rewrite will become law this year, competitive carriers should take the time to present concise arguments to their representatives. “Clear communication is very helpful,” said Thompson, who used to work on the Hill. He emphasized staff members serve as gatekeepers for members of Congress and getting past those gatekeepers takes a well-constructed message. “Tell your story,” Thompson said. “Let it be known you’re not a fly-by-night company.”

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