WHILE THERE IS CONSIDERABLE
momentum behind a telecom policy rewrite, it is debatable whether it will be decided this year. 2006, say doubters, will find elections on the tops of politicians priority lists. Others remain optimistic elections will pose no deterrent to new legislation.
Executives for USTelecom and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) predict a 2006 rewrite. The market desperately needs it, mostly because of the uncertainty thats out there right now, says Matthew Flanigan, president of TIA. Wall Street gets nervous not knowing what customers are going to be able to do both service providers and equipment providers. So I think we will have an act.
That 2006 is an election year makes little difference, maintains Ed Merlis, senior vice president of law and policy for USTelecom. The 1984 Cable Act passed the Senate in June of 1983, passed the House in September of 84, and yet it got enacted into law in 1984, which was even a presidential year, not just a congressional year, he points out. So I think if one is looking for excuses not to do something, you can always find them.
Leaders for COMPTEL, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), however, express little optimism that a rewrite will indeed pass this year. COMPTELs president and CEO, Earl Comstock, calls the likelihood of a rewrite relatively slim. Thats just as a practical reality, he adds. Its a short year because of elections and I think while both the Senate and the House will make progress toward a bill, the possibility that they will be able to pass legislation and negotiate an agreeable compromise on that legislation, whatever the difference is in their two versions, is relatively small.
NTCAs Shirley Bloomfield cites Congresss harried schedule from dealing with pressing legislation to politicians breaking for the summer and focusing on election campaigns as the reason for blotting out much hope for a 2006 rewrite. I really hate to be the big party pooper, but I cant foresee it, she says.
NCTAs president and CEO, Kyle McSlarrow, also sees election year chaos as hampering progress toward telecom reform. I think 2006 is a heavy lift, he says. I worked for three senators, and in an election year, things start slowing down by the summer.
Whether reform makes it in 2006 or not, everyone agrees on one principle: the communications world is not the same as it was 10 years ago, and, therefore, regulatory law is outdated. How it should be updated, and whether portions of the industry should remain siloed or privy to aspects of deregulation while other providers are not are the germane issues. There also is a good chance the time frame between reforms is likely to shorten because technology is changing so quickly that laws cannot keep up.
Caught in the Act:
Pending legislative measures addressing telecom policy as of Dec. 30, 2005
Sen. John Ensign
Broadband Investment and Consumer Choice Act Sponsor:
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.)
Co-Sponsor: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Date Introduced: July 2005
Status: On July 27, it was referred to Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Stated Objectives: The bill would eliminate the requirement that video service providers obtain a cable franchise agreement in order to provide video service; set federal consumer protection standards to ensure timely and quality carrier service; assure consumer access to Internet-based phone service.
Digital Age Communications Act of 2005 (DACA) Sponsor:
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.)
Co-Sponsor: Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.)
Date Introduced: December 2005
Status: On Dec. 15, it was referred to Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Stated Objectives: The bill would create a communications regulation system that is marketoriented, competition-based and grounded in sound economic principles. The communications industry would be regulated like other businesses, by protecting consumers and ensuring businesses do not engage in unfair competition. Services that are alike from a consumers perspective would be treated alike. The Universal Service Program would be reformed to make all service providers contribute equally and make the distribution of the funds more efficient, transparent and technologically neutral. Cable television franchises would be phased out over four years.
Community Broadband Act of 2005 Sponsor:
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)
Co-Sponsors: Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Date Introduced: June 2005
Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Stated Objectives: To amend the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to preserve and protect the ability of local governments to provide broadband capability and services. The bill supports the rollout of municipal Wi-Fi networks.
National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) www.ncta.com
National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) www.ntca.org
Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) www.tiaonline.org
U.S. House of Representatives www.house.gov
U.S. Senate www.senate.gov