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House Panel Urges FCC Action

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R.-Mich.) said Monday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving at "dial up speeds" in implementing its new broadband policy tentatively outlined in the agency's February Triennial Review findings.

Although the FCC has not issued its final order in the matter, the agency ruled the regional Bells will no longer have to share their high-speed fiber lines with broadband competitors. The FCC's ruling provides the Bells with substantial "unbundling" relief for lines utilizing fiber facilities, including no unbundling requirements for fiber-to-the-home loops or hybrid loops that utilize both fiber and cooper.

The vote was a major victory for lawmakers, regulators and the incumbent telecoms who favor freeing the Bells from the local competition legal obligations of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and a significant defeat for consumer groups and Internet service providers (ISPs), who contend the rules will create a broadband monopoly for the Bells.

Currently, the Bells must lease some or all elements of their networks, including broadband lines, to competitors at deep discounts to foster competition in the local phone service market.

Since the February vote, a number of Republican lawmakers, including Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, have urged the FCC to issue its final order.

"Five months later, the Commission still has not issued its order," Upton said during a hearing on national broadband policy. "The FCC needs to act now, and I hope the FCC is listening, because I expect the Commission back up here shortly after we return in September -- and we will be asking them to explain if they have not acted by then."

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R.-La.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, also weighed in against the FCC delay, as did Rep. John Dingell (D.-Mich.), the ranking minority member on the committee. Last year, Tauzin and Dingell teamed in an unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation that would have freed the Bells from sharing their high-speed lines with competitors.

"It is unconscionable that the Commission has not released the Triennial Review Order yet," Tauzin said. "I didn't realize that when they named it the 'Triennial Review' that we should have understood that to mean that it would take three years to release the order."

Dingell said when the FCC order is "finally released one day, it will adopt much of what this committee tried to achieve in the Tauzin-Dingell bill, by ending outmoded regulation of new fiber networks."

When specifically asked if the FCC would issue its final order by September, Dr. Robert Pepper, the FCC's chief of policy development, dodged the issue but simply saying, "I hope so."

Monday's hearing also focused on another matter pending at the FCC involving a possible new regulatory definition of broadband services provided by the Bells. Currently, the Bell high-speed services are defined as "telecommunications services." Under that definition, the Bells are required to share their dial-up lines with competitors.

However, more than a year ago, the FCC ruled broadband via cable modem was an "information service" and not subject to the same access rules as the Bells. The ruling was almost immediately challenged by the Bells; ISPs, who want access to the cable broadband market; and public interest groups, who are fighting for an "open access" Internet.

The FCC defended its ruling by arguing that less regulation will speed up the widespread adoption of broadband. Under Chairman Michael Powell, the FCC has approved a number of rules designed to fulfill Powell's vision that broadband will ultimately be provided by multiple platforms that include cable, telephone, wireless and satellite.

The FCC has now tentatively decided the Bells' high-speed services are also an information service, but a final ruling has not been issued.

"What such classifications would promote is the notion that old, legacy telephone regulations are simply not appropriate for broadband services, particularly given that there are numerous technological platforms by which broadband services are delivered," Upton said, "and it makes no sense to tie one hand behind the backs of telephone companies seeking to provide the same service as the cable companies or, for that matter, satellite television companies, wireless companies, or hopefully in the not to distant future powerline carrier companies."

Upton, Tauzin and Dingell all said they supported "deregulatory parity" as opposed to "regulatory parity."

"We must create a regulatory regime that does not favor any one technology or provider, but instead creates parity," Dingell said.