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Hollings To Introduce Own Broadband Bill

Sen. Ernest Hollings, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee chairman, opened his vision for broadband America with the introduction of the "Broadband Telecommunications Act of 2002" Thursday evening.

In a departure from broadband bills of the past, the bill would help fund service providers and carriers who find a way to get broadband to rural and underserved areas, especially universities and towns.

Introducing his broadband bill to the Senate, Hollings said advances in broadband are still in the building phase and will continue to be until every house in America is passed by a high-speed line. In order to get to that point, everyone must participate -- Congress, incumbent and competitive telephone companies, and service providers.

"Ultimately, if we decide as a nation that a broadband world must be achieved, we must move beyond the rhetoric of parity and regulation versus deregulation," he said. "We must move forward and begin to deal with the real issues that impact broadband deployment and use."

Satellite and fixed wireless Internet service, long considered "niche" technologies because of their slow start, get a nod from the Hollings' bill. It calls for pilot projects in rural areas to further spur competition.

The bill also calls for various grants to educational institutions, e-government initiatives, communities as well as money to support broadband research and deployment.

Funds for the bill's many giveaways from 2003 to 2007 come from the 3 percent every telephone user pays into the telephone excise tax, and are broken down as follows:

  • $2 billion in loans to carriers who put broadband facilities in rural areas
  • $500 million loan facility to upgrade remote terminals (provided competitors have access to the RTs)
  • $750 million in grants to connect colleges, communities, libraries and museums
  • $1 billion in grants to local and state governments for broadband and e-government proposals

Charles Hoffman, Covad Communications president and chief executive officer, congratulates the author of the bill for a plan that doesn't involve the incumbent local exchange carrier (ILEC) regaining their monopoly status.

"Chairman Hollings has been one of the nation's leading champions for true broadband competition," he said. "With this bill, he has addressed some of the most fundamental problems in our industry in a way that creates winners on every side of the table -- the phone companies, competitors like Covad and, most importantly, consumers and small businesses across America."

The senator from South Carolina has long been an opponent of Baby Bell-lobbied broadband bills, which free incumbent telephone companies from regulations to make high-speed deployment more financially viable.

Hollings has cultivated a higher profile in the telecom industry these days. He vowed to kill the Tauzin-Dingell Broadband Bill after it was signed off by the House of Representatives in March. A month later he was criticized for his wildly unpopular content security bill. Most recently, Hollings blasted a piece of legislation called the Breaux-Nickels "Broadband Regulatory Parity Act of 2002."

In a letter to his peers, he decried the wording of the Bill.

"This legislation in the name of parity is nothing more than a Trojan Horse to deregulate the Bells and extend their monopoly," Hollings wrote in a letter obtained by Washtech.com.

Two months ago, Hollings and four other senators introduced the "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act of 2002," a bill designed to spur high-speed growth throughout the country by ensuring the security of trademarked content, such as movies and music. With content online, more Americans would be inclined to buy broadband connections like digital subscriber line (DSL) and cable modems.

Instead, the bill was picked apart and savaged by the media, computer users and manufacturers alike for its requirement to add a piece of hardware to all existing and future products to ensure digital content security.