Congress Makes Push to Open Cable Networks
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In the spirit of the Independence Day, a congressional duo this week introduced the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999. If passed, the bill would open cable network access to regional Bell operating companies, and eventually, Internet services providers.
Representatives William J. Tauzin,, a Louisiana Republican, and John D. Dingell,, a Michigan Democrat, drafted the legislation to encourage all companies to develop and deliver broadband services by deregulating both high-speed data and Internet access services.
Tauzin, chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection, and Dingell, the Commerce Committee's ranking member, are looking to create competition among cable and wireline companies allowing both to deliver broadband services.
The bill emancipates RBOCs by providing for the ability to compete nationwide with cable networks operators. Under the bill, Internet service providers that collocate within a RBOC's high-speed network could have access to at least one broadband service, depending on the companies' interconnection agreement.
However, it's not a definitive victory for RBOCs because the legislation prohibits the Bells from providing voice-based long distance services delivered over the packet-switched networks until the Bell company is authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to do so. No RBOC has made it past the FCC's 14-point checklist to date.
Congressman Dingell said the bill creates a winning environment for consumers and service providers because no single company can create a monopoly for broadband services if the bill is made into law.
"Internet service will not become a de facto monopoly for any one provider," Dingell said. "Our bill protects consumers against the increasing concentration of market power in the Internet backbone business."
Open access proponents were present to commend representatives Tauzin and Dingell for introducing the legislation.
David J. Markey, BellSouth's vice president of governmental affairs, said the company heartily supports the legislation.
"This bill would give consumers a meaningful choice of high-speed Internet access providers by finally putting the local telephone industry on an equal footing with the nation's cable giants, many of which will soon be controlled by AT&T."
Although AT&T is expected to release a statement later Friday, the company has not spoken out about the legislation to date. The telecommunications giant has been fighting vehemently against open access to their Tele-Communications Inc. franchises in Oregon, Washington and California.
Milo Medin, Excite@Home founder and chief technical officer, has been an outspoken critic of any legislative efforts to open cable network access. Medin contends that "forced" access to cable networks will only work to hinder cable access speed and performance.
"Forced access to cable networks will slow deployment of broadband Internet services to a halt," Medin said.
Bill Shute, SBC Communications, Inc. executive director of federal relations disagrees. He said supporting competition is the surest way to provide more choices and lower prices to consumers.
"Tauzin-Dingell bill's guiding principle is that, because of the robust competition to offer Internet access, regulators must stop impeding the provision of those services by certain providers. We applaud this approach," Shute said.
He added the bill equalizes the opportunity to provide broadband services by eliminating regulatory barriers to unbridled competition in the telecommunications market.
Although the debate on the bill is just starting RBOCs will be the first to share in the economic opportunities of providing broadband services with cable companies should the bill become law.