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Regulatory News – CompTel Protests House Broadband Bill

Posted: 10/1999

Regulatory News

CompTel Protests House Broadband Bill
By Kim Sunderland

The Tauzin-Dingell bill (H.R. 2420) that would deregulate and offer broadband relief to
the incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) won’t work, the board of directors for the
Competitive Telecommunications Association (CompTel) says.

In a letter of protest sent to Congresswoman Heather A. Wilson, R-N.M., a member of the
House Commerce Committee, 23 executives for competitive communications companies called
the premise of H.R. 2420 flawed. The regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) and GTE
Corp., Irving Texas, don’t "even offer dial tone in many of the rural areas they
claim the legislation will help," according to their letter.

Many of those who signed the CompTel letter actively are deploying or have announced
plans to deploy broadband services, "despite RBOC and GTE delaying tactics and
monopoly abuses," according to the letter. These LEC efforts have been made in
response to competitors rolling out broadband services, CompTel’s member companies say.

The controversial legislation in question is sponsored by Reps. W.J. "Billy"
Tauzin, R-La., and John Dingell, D-Mich., both also members of the House Commerce
Committee. Known as the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999, H.R. 2420
would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and states from regulating
advanced services by amending Section 251 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Specifically, the Section 251 amendment would void the resale and unbundled access
obligations that apply to voice services for any high-speed data services offered by the
LECs. The bill also would amend Section 271 to add Internet services and high-speed data
connections to the list of services an RBOC can offer "as incidental long distance
without prior FCC approval," says David J. Markey, Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp.’s
vice president of governmental affairs.

"The regulations being imposed on local telephone companies will result in more
costs and fewer customers served," Markey says, echoing the sentiments of the LECs in
support of the Tauzin-Dingell measure. "There is no good public policy reason to
regulate the advanced services of local telephone networks under these competitive
circumstances."

This kind of support, however, is support for monopolies over competition, the CompTel
letter states, adding that competitors, not incumbent monopolies, were the first to roll
out broadband services. As a result, all states, including rural states, are witnessing
broadband deployment in response to market forces, according to CompTel. Digital
subscriber line (DSL) actually isn’t a new technology, but the LECs didn’t offer it until
they were forced to respond to competition, CompTel executives say. Thus, such
"relief" legislation is unnecessary because the LECs are deploying DSL services
without it.

"In sum," the letter states, "we urge you to oppose any so-called
‘broadband relief’ measures and to support the growth and innovation that is just starting
to benefit every American. That growth will only survive if you vote for competition and
against deregulating the monopolies."

The group believes that if this legislation is adopted, competition will be
"severely harmed" because the Bells would be allowed into interLATA (local
access and transport area) markets without having to open up their local markets to
competitors. This would allow them "to expand their monopolies into the advanced
services and the Internet market," according to CompTel. "We urge careful study
of this complex issue in which clever sound bites are usually a trap."

Congressman Tauzin’s press secretary Ken Johnson says H.R. 2420 won’t be voted on this
month. "We’re still collecting co-sponsors," he says, and urges Commerce
Committee Chairman Thomas J. Bliley Jr., R-Va., for a hearing on the bill.


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