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Senate Looks to Reform Telecom Law

The U.S. Senate has kicked off a series of hearings as part of a comprehensive effort to reform federal telecommunications law.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, said in April he will introduce a bill later this year to reform telecom law. The Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee has held a few hearings since February examining the Telecommunications Act of 1996, future reform and changes in technology including Internet-based phone service.

"As I have said many times before, and will continue to remind my colleagues as we proceed down the path of reform, the Telecommunications Act was a fatally flawed piece of legislation, written by lobbyists, that freezes telecommunications policy in a bygone era already rendered obsolete by technological advances," McCain said. "We should be mindful not to repeat the failures of the past as Congress picks up the pen once again to craft the next version of the Act."

Many federal legislators recently have indicated they want to reform federal law. Lawyers, analysts and academics say it could take years for a U.S. president to sign into law the equivalent of the 1996 Telecom Act because the issues are complex and so much money is at stake.

Those people supporting deregulation maintain the 1996 Telecom Act no longer reflects technological advances and the myriad forms of competition. Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) argues that the four regional Bells continue to dominate the local phone market because, in part, they own the wires going to the home and have resisted FCC rules designed to foster competition.

A spokesman for Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on whether the committee plans to hold telecom hearings this year to examine reform. At a United States Telecom Association convention last fall in Las Vegas, Barton said he was holding out hope Congress may revisit the telecom act.


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