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Federal Lawmakers Take Time Out for Telecom Policy Issues

Congress appears to be taking a renewed interest in telecom issues. In the past week, two subcommittees have held hearings on special access, Bell forbearance petitions and copper loop retirement.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., held the first hearing last week. He is chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. Kerry wanted to examine ways to get high-speed Internet to more small businesses, as well as more Americans. Part of that hearing included an examination on the copper loop retirement debate. Many CLECs rely on Bell last-mile copper to reach their end users. If the incumbents continue doing away with that resource, CLECs will have to pay what they say are exorbitant access rates or lose the customers many of whom are small businesses altogether.

Senators heard from FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, both Democrats. Each said its crucial to re-define the speeds that constitute broadband (The commission is still calling 200 kilobits per second broadband, said Copps) and boost the United States from its low ranking in terms of worldwide high-speed Internet access.

Then, on Oct. 2, the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet asked about the effects of special access deregulation as well as the granting of Bell forbearance petitions.

Executives from Time Warner Telecom, Sprint, Cavalier Telephone and XO Communications all testified to the devastating effects of these policies. Lawmakers also took input from AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Embarq. But it was the competitive communitys insight that made the biggest difference, said Jerry James, interim CEO for COMPTEL.

Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, clearly recognize the need to overhaul the special access services market and to revisit the forbearance provision of the 1996 Telecom Act that is enabling Bell companies to remonopolize the communications industry, he said.

XOs Heather Gold agreed.

“The incumbent phone companies were rocked back on their heels today, she said. Members of Congress were clearly not satisfied with the incomplete answers and erroneous data the incumbents provided to questions on access and forbearance.”

Committee member Sen. John Dingell, D-Michigan, said he wanted all companies to provide market-share information, noting that it should be valid, not slanted to support a companys assertions.

The FCC must have all the relevant data if it is going to make an informed decision, he said. I am troubled by reports that those seeking re-regulation have thus far been less forthcoming than they might be with data about their facilities.

AT&T Inc. www.att.com

Cavalier Telephone www.cavtel.com

Embarq www.embarq.com

Sprint www.sprint.com

Time Warner Telecom www.twtelecom.com

Verizon Communications Inc. www.verizon.com

XO www.xo.com


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