House Moves Ahead with Telecom Legislation

The House of Representatives held four hearings through the first four months of the year on telecommunications developments and planned to introduce legislation as early as late May to reform a law that is nearly a decade old.

In the hearings, Rep. Joe Barton, the Texas Republican chairing the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said he wants to introduce legislation in the late spring or early summer to reform the Telecommunications Act of 1996 with a goal of passing a bill through the House by the end of July, says committee spokesman Kevin Schweers.

Schweers says the House had not started drafting a bill as of late April. Several members of the House overseeing telecom policy did not respond to repeated requests for interviews or, instead, declined comment.

Rep. Joe Barton

The House is “trying to provide some regulatory consistency and certainty to encourage additional investment into providing … new communications services,” Schweers says.

A source in Washington, D.C., outside Capitol Hill told PHONE+ several congressmen were teaming up to draft legislation that would possibly:

  • Assert federal jurisdiction over all IP applications.
  • Eliminate the traditional franchise obligations of new entrants in the TV market. SBC Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. say the requirements to obtain franchises through local governments are a barrier to entering the TV business. The companies plan to deliver hundreds of channels of video service to millions of homes over fiber networks.
  • Establish circumstances in which telecom carriers and other entities can deliver Internet phone service and content over the local networks controlled by phone companies and cable operators.
  • Give the FCC a deadline to place E911 obligations on Internet-based phone providers.
  • Provide guidelines for the FCC to change the rules governing national phone subsidies and the “intercarrier compensation” system by which telecommunications carriers pay one another to complete calls.

Sen. Ted Stevens

Brian Adkins, telecom legislative director with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, says Barton and Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the Republican chairing the House telecom subcommittee, are exploring whether to assert federal jurisdiction over VoIP and eliminate or scale back the franchising obligations of companies delivering video over IP networks.

“I think the state commission point of view is there are certain oversight functions that simply make more sense at the state level,” Adkins says. “That’s been the basis of our dialogue with the energy and commerce committee.”

The House seemingly has been moving at a faster pace to reform telecom law than the Senate. The Senate Committee on Science, Commerce & Transportation under Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska has held “listening sessions” with members of the industry, including two phone giants planning to merge: AT&T Corp. and SBC.

During a speech in March, Stevens said the Senate expected to introduce telecom legislation by the end of June or July. “It depends on how our people respond to these listening sessions, but we expect a bill this year,” he said.

That does not mean a bill will reach the desk of President Bush this year even if both chambers of Congress introduce legislation.

“The telecom issues in the House are very, very complicated … technically difficult and politically difficult,” says Jessica Zufolo, an analyst covering telecom policy issues with Medley Global Advisors LLC. “They may introduce legislation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to pass legislation.”


AT&T Corp.
Federal Communications Commission
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
Medley Global Advisors LLC
National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
SBC Communications Inc.
Senate Committee on Science, Commerce & Transportation
Verizon Communications Inc.

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