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House Delays Vote on Broadband Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives' vote on the highly controversial Tauzin-Dingell broadband bill, more properly known as The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 2001 (H.R. 1542), was delayed by the House leadership Friday, and the House will probably not return to the bill until March according to House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX).

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and John Dingell (D-MI), calls for the end of Federal Communication Commission (FCC) policies, like unbundling the local loop and opening remote terminals, which the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), like Verizon Communications and BellSouth, say is preventing them from deploying high-speed Internet access nationwide.

But the bill has its critics, especially Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), which say the bill is simply an escape clause from the Telecommunications Act of 1996. They argue that passage of the bill will destroy their competitive chances in the market and leave consumers with only two choices for high-speed Internet: the local phone monopoly and the local cable monopoly.

Indeed, many members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce seemed to agree with the ISPs and CLECs when the bill was before their committee. In May, the committee voted to bring the bill before the full House by only 33-24.

Still, Tauzin maintains that the bill is the best bet for nationwide broadband deployment, requiring the Bells to be capable of supplying 20 percent of their customers with broadband capabilities within one year of its enactment, 40 percent within two years, 70 percent within three years and 100 percent within five years.

"The bill ensures that all Bell telephone customers will be able to obtain broadband services within five years," Tauzin said.