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Calif. ISPs Predict More Disasters On Horizon

According to a coalition of Internet service providers, a telecommunications bill before congress has the potential of stranding thousands consumers and businesses just like some 850,000 @Home customers did this past weekend.

At issue is the Tauzin-Dingell bill, also known as the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act, H.R. 1542.

The bill calls for the end of Federal Communication Commission policies, like unbundling their local loop and opening remote terminals, which telephone companies say is preventing them from deploying high-speed Internet access nationwide.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill before the end of the year. This, after the bill narrowly passed through the House Committee on Energy and Commerce back in May.

But the California ISP Association (CISPA) claims that the bill would put hundreds of Internet service providers and competitive phone companies out of business. The reasoning? Well, they say the legislation would allow the Bell telephone companies to expand their existing local phone monopolies into the market for high-speed Internet services such as Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL).

"If the Bells succeed in locking out competitors with this legislation, California's onsumers themselves will no longer be able to get DSL from their favorite Internet service provider," said Mike Jackman, executive director of CISPA. "Without competition, DSL customers will be faced with higher prices, less choice, and a lower quality of service."

That may be already true. While former @Home customers say that AT&T has done better than expected in switching accounts over to the attbi.com domain, many are reporting download speed at half of their former levels.

A Question Of Jobs and Money

The other main beef that CISPA, which represents 130 Internet service providers in California, has with the Tauzin-Dingell bill is that it could eliminate 70,000 telecommunications and Internet jobs

CISPA contends that the bill as a law would make it harder for the smaller players to compete and the Association for Local Telecommunications Services says the relaxed legislation would effectively end competition for DSL and other high-speed data services and wipe out more than $50 billion in investment along with tens of thousands of jobs.

Despite the intentions of the 1996 law, competition for DSL services is already extremely limited, with the local Bell companies carrying more than 90 percent of the residential DSL market nationwide.

Hogwash says Communications Workers of America president Morton Bahr. Bahr says the bill would bring down artificial regulatory barriers for providing broadband service to customers and would bolster the economy.

"High tech communications has been a leading growth engine in our economy for several years, and the decline in this sector was a major cause of the current recession," says Bahr. "This bill will provide an economic stimulus that won't cost taxpayers anything, but it will boost investment and competition in the Internet backbone market and data network systems, spurring our economic recovery."

Bahr says currently, cable companies dominate the market in providing high speed, digital subscriber line service, but, along with long distance companies, have fallen far short of meeting customer demand for quality service. The Bell operating companies are the only providers that must abide by complex, telephone-era industry regulation that is holding back the establishment of new, high-speed data networks.

CISPA remains unmoved.

"The success of the U.S. economy depends on open competition among many companies," says Jackman. "Tauzin-Dingell would recreate the old Bell monopoly and hinder the growth of affordable, high-speed Internet access."