RealTime IT News

Telecom Reform Debate Enters Third Day

WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers continued their marathon debate today on a sweeping telecom reform bill before the Senate Commerce Committee.

With more than 200 proposed amendments, the debate has been primarily marked by a succession of defeats for both Democrats and Republicans who don't want to hew to Chairman Ted Stevens' (R-Alaska) bill.

Stevens, though, has run a tight, disciplined markup session for the Communications, Consumer's Choice and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006, which he released on May 2 before holding three public hearings.

"This bill will pass in September, if it passes at all," Stevens said Tuesday.

If it doesn't, Stevens predicted Tuesday afternoon, the blame will rest squarely on Democratic efforts to force network neutrality language into the bill.

The panel expects to begin considering network neutrality language sometime Wednesday afternoon.

While delaying the network neutrality vote, Stevens has spent the three days of the debate fending off both Democrats and Republicans who want to add amendments to the bill.

Democrats, for instance, lost votes seeking to expand state control over Voice over IP services and allocating payments from the Universal Service Fund for emergency interoperability systems.

Wednesday morning, Sen. Jay Rockefeller lost an effort to strengthen build-out requirements for IPTV providers moving into a market to compete with cable television providers.

Republican John McCain of Arizona lost a vote to force cable providers to offer à la carte channels.

Republicans, though, are enjoying more success than Democrats in amending the massive bill.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) won approval on Tuesday for his proposal to require warning labels on the first page of a site containing sexually explicit material.

Sen. George Allen of Virginia pushed through an amendment to make the current moratorium on Internet access taxes permanent.

Neither provision is likely to survive the legislative process. Burns' amendment is likely to run into a raft of free speech objections while Allen's efforts will be strongly opposed by the states.

Once all the amendments have been debated and voted on, Stevens will call a vote for the entire bill. The legislation is expected to easily pass.

Between the final vote and a full Senate vote, the bill will be subject to changes. Once on the floor, it could also be amended to defeat the amendments added over the last three days.

If the Senate ultimately passes a telecom reform bill, it will have to be reconciled with the House version of telecom reform.