Hollings Blasts Proposed FCC Rule Changes
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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D.-S.C.) was harshly critical Tuesday morning of possible Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designs to change the rules for implementing telecommunications competition, calling the regional Bell operating companies "liars" and lamenting the "shenanigans" of the FCC.
According to a number of reports, the FCC is set to do away with regulations that currently require the Bells to rent their lines at wholesale rates to competitors.
The Bells have long contended the system, which was implemented through the 1996 Telecommunications Act, inhibits capital investment in high-speed networks. Critics have countered the FCC proposal would re-establish a telecommunications monopoly and result in higher prices and reduced services.
"The (Telecommunications) Act hinged on competitors having access to the Bell network on just, reasonable and non-discriminatory rates, whether that network carried a phone conversation, a dial-up Internet service or high-speed data," Hollings said.
Hollings' comments came at a Senate Commerce Committee meeting where all five FCC commissioners testified before the panel on the state of telecommunications competition.
In Hollings' opinion, "competition is finally taking root" across America.
"As competition begins to flourish, however, the cries of the Bells grow louder," Hollings said. "Their current strategy is to focus on two orders under consideration by the FCC that could cap competition in the telecommunications industry at the very time it is beginning to take hold."
FCC Chairman Michael Powell told the committee his agency "has before it a number of major proceedings that will attempt to improve and advance the goals of the 1996 Act. To my mind, the primary challenge in front of policymakers today in promoting broadband is determining how we can help drive the enormous investment required to turn the promises of broadband into reality."
One of the policy changes before the FCC is to re-classify broadband carried by the Bells as an "information service," which would allow the Bells to charge Internet service providers retail rates to the "last mile" of copper into homes.
"What does this mean? Without reasonable access under Section 251 (of the Act) to the Bell network for broadband, you can forget about competitors. They will just close up shop," Hollings said. "This is not what the Telecommunications Act intended. The preamble aspired about new telecommunications technologies. The words 'data' or 'the Internet' or 'advanced services' were mentioned in the hearings, in the bills, and on the floor over 400 times."
Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) added, "Sen. Hollings and I certainly do not agree where broadband deployment is concerned. The time for ambiguity is over and real regulatory reform is needed now."
Brownback said President Bush "seems to have placed his broadband agenda in the Commission's hands. He has expressed confidence in your ability to right the ship. I share that confidence, and I cannot in strong enough terms recommend that you follow the president's lead and be decisive and bold in this effort."