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ISPs, CLECs Plan Protest of H.R. 1542

Members of the ISP, Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC), cable and long-distance phone communities are hopping mad over a House of Representatives Bill known as H.R. 1542, or the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act, and they plan to make their displeasure felt at Capitol Hill this Sunday.

Pulver.com, a communications industry forum which opposes the bill, is organizing the second annual Internet Freedom Rally to show legislators that the ISPs and CLECs mean business. The rally is scheduled for Sunday, June 24, on the West Steps of the Capitol Building from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

H.R. 1542 is sponsored by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), chairman of the committee on energy and commerce, and by fellow committee member Rep. John Dingell (D-MI). Critics of the legislation say it favors the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), or local telephone companies, by allowing them to enter the long-distance data-services market without opening their networks to competitors.

"HR 1542...is another piece of legislation that, whatever its good points, contains an ill-conceived, out-of-the-blue provisions that looks...like a swift kick for voice applications of the Internet into Telecom Regulatory Hell," Pulver writes on its Web site.

Pulver said the bill may not go anywhere in the Senate, but added that the bill proves that ISPs and CLECs need to do a better job making friends in Washington.

Tauzin and Dingell, on the other hand, maintain that the best bet for the deployment of broadband services, especially in rural areas, is the unencumbered efforts of local telephone companies.

The first Internet Freedom Rally was held last year to combat H.R. 1291, a bill which attempted to regulate Internet access and assess access charges on Internet voice applications.

ISPs and CLECs, don't have the big-money clout of the RBOCs, but they find themselves on the same side of the fence as long-distance providers Worldcom, Sprint Corp. and AT&T Corp.

The long-distance companies were brought into the fray, in large part because of the actions of the Federal Communications Commission. The commission, led by Chairman Michael Powell, gave the regional telephone companies the go-ahead to provide long-distance service in states throughout the U.S., cutting into the profits formerly the domain of long-distance providers.

Recent reciprocal compensation changes also eroded at the profits held tightly by struggling long-distance companies. The FCC ruled to virtually eliminate the money paid between call carriers in the next several years, both inside the regional telephone calling areas and between regions.

Cable companies, like AT&T, AOL Time Warner and Cox Communications, also joined the melee, since all have a vested interest in seeing the breakup of the Internet dominance telephone companies hold in the market.

Earlier in the week, the House Judiciary Committee gave H.R. 1542 an unfavorable recommendation, and asked that anti-trust approval be required before the RBOCs are allowed to offer long-distance data services.