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Rep. Tauzin to Bring Broadband Deployment Act Back to Table

Washington insiders say that the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999, which was first introduced to Congress on July 1, 1999 by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), is about to make a repeat appearance on Capitol Hill.

Ken Johnson, Congressman Tauzin's Spokesperson, said this time around the bill would pass the House.

"The longer we wait, the more entrenched the cable monopolies will become," Johnson said. "I am confident that the bill will pass the House and make it to the Senate floor, even though the markup language may be changed along the way. We intend to reintroduce the original 1999 bill within the next week or two."

Body language

The would-be law amends the Communications Act of 1934 to define "high speed data service" as a service capable of transmitting electronic information at a rate generally not less than 384 kilobits per second be it uploads or down.

Finer points of the bill's markup language include:

  • It prohibits the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and each state, except as expressly provided in the Act, from regulating the rates, charges, terms or conditions for, or entry into the provision of, any high speed data service or Internet access service, or to regulate the facilities used in the provision of such service.
  • It prohibits the FCC from requiring an incumbent local exchange carrier to:
    1. provide unbundled access to any network elements used in the provision of any high speed data service, other than those elements described in FCC regulations; or
    2. offer for resale at wholesale rates any high-speed data service.
  • It states that nothing in the act shall:
    1. limit or affect the authority of any state to regulate voice telephone exchange services
    2. affect the ability of the FCC to retain or modify the exemption from interstate access charges for enhanced service providers; or
    3. prohibit the FCC from modifying the regulation concerning the number of networks subject to its unbundling requirement.
  • It requires each incumbent local exchange carrier to provide:
    1. Internet users with the ability to subscribe to and have access to any Internet service provider that interconnects with such carrier's high-speed data service;
    2. any Internet service provider with the right to acquire necessary facilities and services to facilitate such interconnection; and
    3. any Internet service provider with the ability to collocate equipment in order to achieve such interconnection.
  • It includes high-speed data service or Internet access service within the definition of "incidental interLATA services" permitted for a Bell operating company (BOC).
  • It states that, until the date a BOC is authorized to offer interLATA services originating in an in-region State, such BOC offering any high speed data service or Internet access service may not, in such State, bill or collect for interLATA voice telecommunications service obtained by means of such high speed data or Internet access service provided by such company.

Fight club

However, a number of lobbyists, consumer advocacy groups and Internet associations are displeased by the bill.

One such group is lead by Bruce Kushnick, executive director of New Networks Institute. The investigative telecom research entity was behind a comprehensive research project that lead to initiating a series of Class Action suits against Regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) in several states, and has filed volumes of comments with the FCC and other government agencies representing consumer interests in telecom policy matters.

Kushnick says Rep. Tauzin has a direct conflict-of-interest when it comes to telecom issues and that the Louisiana-born politician should disqualify himself from creating or voting on critical legislation that directly impacts the industry.

"Rep. Billy Tauzin should be recused from regulating telecommunications because of his obvious conflicts of interests with the Bell companies, including BellSouth -- as well as Verizon, SBC and Qwest," Kushnick said. "As chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee, he is in a position to control the agenda for America's telecommunications. Tauzin's relationships with the Bells have been documented by numerous sources."

Kushnick contends that when private interests conflict with official responsibilities, a person in a position of trust should step aside. NNI published a dubious litany of Rep. Tauzin's wrongdoings, some of which include:

  • Rep. Tauzin's current counsel to the Commerce Committee worked for Bell clients
  • Rep. Tauzin's son, Billy Tauzin III, is a state lobbyist for BellSouth in Louisiana
  • Many of Rep. Tauzin's staffers have come to him from Bell/telecom lobbying jobs
  • Rep. Tauzin goes on trips with Bell executives.

War on the horizon?

Johnson, the Congressman's spokesman, said the NNI allegations are a cheap, personal attack against Tauzin.

"They're making ludicrous accusations," Johnson said. "They're just an organization backed by phone money trying to whip-up hysteria about the legislation. Yes, Billy's son is a lobbyist for Bell South, but he is a state lobbyist and has never operated at a federal level."

Johnson added that the rest of the allegations are simply ridiculous and that time is of the essence for facilitating the deployment of broadband services nationwide.

"The longer we wait, the more entrenched the cable monopolies will become," Johnson said. "Cable companies will do anything they can to delay the game and get to market first."

Johnson said that NNI, CLECs and cable lobbyists have initiated an unjustified attack against Rep. Tauzin and that the endless recriminations only increase the Congressman's resolve to press the legislation through to the Senate.

"This unwarranted attack only makes us more resolved to accomplish our goals," Johnson said. "If they want a war -- they got it."

Conventional wisdom

But industry insiders believe that the legislation violates Section 271 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) to comply with a 14-point "competition" checklist before they can provide in-region inter-LATA phone services.

Johnson said that all the bill does is "allow RBOCs to offer high-speed Internet access across inter-LATA lines. The phone companies still have to comply with Article 271."

Pat Fusco is the managing editor of ISP-Planet.



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